CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija decided to give up football and
stay with baseball.
"Baseball is my first love. I played it my whole life,"
A 21-year-old right-hander, Samardzija was the Cubs' fifth-round
pick in last year's amateur draft and had a 2.70 ERA in seven
starts for their Class A teams at Boise and Peoria.
He returned to Notre Dame and helped the Irish make the Sugar
Bowl, catching 78 passes for 1,017 yards as a senior. The Irish
lost the game to LSU 41-14, but Samardzija did catch a TD pass.
His deal includes a $2.5 million signing bonus and the Cubs hold
options for a sixth and seventh seasons in 2012 and 2013. If the
options are exercised, the deal would be worth $16.5 million over
Samardzija said there would be no returning to football, even
though he's headed for a stint in the minor leagues, probably
starting at Class A Daytona after spring training. The deal also
includes a no-trade clause.
"He has offered at any time in the five-year period to give the [signing bonus] money back. He wanted to make everything clear that
there wasn't any turning back," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
"That was something I wanted in there to show my commitment to
this organization, along with the no-trade clause," Samardzija
Samardzija's fastball was clocked at 97 mph last summer and
Hendry said the Cubs project him one day to a be "high end
Samardzija, 21-6 in 50 college baseball games, said he spent 10
to 12 hours a day weighing the decision on which sport to pursue.
His familiarity with the Cubs after his experience last summer was
a major factor.
Hendry said he never pressured Samardzija after he returned to
school last fall following his brief minor league stint.
"I felt the best thing to do was let him go back and play
football. I went to see him play football, we talked regularly but
it never came up, 'What are you going to do?"' Hendry said. "He
was going to do what he wanted to do and that's what he should do
and that's what I told him."
Samardzija said longevity and the chance of injury were not
major factors in his decision to go with baseball over football.
And he said there is no sadness about giving up football after a
great career with Notre Dame. In 2005 he set the school's
single-season records for yards receiving with 1,249 and TD catches
"It's an excitement for baseball. If there is a sadness for
leaving football, I'm making the decision at the wrong time or just
the wrong decision in general," he said.
He said Irish coach Charlie Weis was supportive when he told him
he was turning to baseball.
"He was excited. He wished me the best and he asked for Cubs
tickets," Samardzija said.