As a record-setting receiver for Notre Dame, Jeff Samardzija might have had a bright NFL future, but he chose baseball and signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. After three seasons of shuttling between the major and minor leagues as well as the starting rotation and bullpen with minimal success, that decision might seem like a mistake by the 26-year-old Samardzija.
But Samardzija, who was the top-rated receiver heading into the 2007 NFL Draft, said the biggest mistake would be giving up on a baseball career he still believes in.
"I've got a lot of pride and when it comes to doing things I want to be good at things, I want to be great at things. Baseball is what I want to do. It's almost become a nice little personal challenge here with what we've been through the last year or two. I really want to see how this thing ends up."
Samardzija was called up during a pennant race in 2008 and made an immediate impact out of the bullpen for the Cubs, posting a 2.28 ERA in 26 games. He has struggled since, shuttling back and forth between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa, recording ERAs of 7.53 in 2009 and 8.38 in 2010 mostly as a reliever.
As pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Samardzija faces a pivotal spring. He is out of options, meaning he will be subject to waivers if he does not make the Cubs roster when camp breaks.
But Samardzija is confident things will work out because he finally has a defined role. He has been told by the Cubs that he will come out of the bullpen despite there being two open spots in the rotation.
"I guess if you want to pick a positive out of it, at least I'm going into camp knowing what I'm going to be, and I'll be able to get ready for the season in that role," Samardzija said. "It won't be with a week left of camp [after starting] I'm in the pen and got to get ready for the season as a reliever. I'll be able to fall into a role and stay in that role until Opening Day. It will be nice.
"I'm in a great spot right now. What's happened over the past couple of years and being toyed around up and down, from starting and relieving, I really feel like I've kind of been through the ringer. I'm ready to come out this year and have a nice strong year and propel me into the future with the Cubs."