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Samardzija plays before smaller crowds in minors

EVERETT, Wash. -- This visit was very different from Jeff
Samardzija's previous trip to the Puget Sound area, when he wore a
Notre Dame uniform and raced past defensive backs at Husky Stadium.

This time, Samardzija wore the red, blue and gray of the Boise
Hawks, pitching before 1,472 fans in a stadium owned by the local
school district, where a sign on the hand-operated scoreboard in
right-center field read "Hit the sign -- win a suit."

This certainly wasn't the Fighting Irish wide receiver who
caught eight passes for 164 yards and a 52-yard touchdown against
Washington last September.

This was a right-handed starter, with a strong fastball, making
his final start for the Chicago Cubs' Single-A short-season
affiliate in the Northwest League.

Samardzija pitched his best game with the Hawks and picked up
his first win by throwing five shutout innings, giving up three
hits and striking out four Monday night in a 4-0 Boise win over the
Everett AquaSox.

Samardzija next headed to Peoria, Ill., the Cubs' full-season
Single-A team in the Midwest League, where he'll pitch a few more
times before leaving baseball behind and returning to Notre Dame
for his senior season playing football with the Fighting Irish.

"It's hard for everyone to understand what I'm doing because
they're not in my shoes," Samardzija said. "They don't understand
the love I have for both games. How I love going out and playing
baseball, which is such a different sport than football, and how I
love playing football, which is so different than baseball.

"Being able to be successful in both is tough to give up."

He wrapped up his monthlong stint in Boise 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA
in five appearances. His impending return to South Bend, Ind., in
early August only fuels the debate of whether Samardzija's future
is on a pitching mound or lined up across from a cornerback. Or in
his mind, both.

"If he really pursued this thing without the football
interruption, there's no doubt in my mind that if he stayed
healthy, he'd have the ability to pitch in the big leagues," Boise
manager Steve McFarland said. "He's conveyed it to us that he's
going to give it a shot. He loves baseball, I think he understands
baseball, and he likes to compete, he likes to pitch."

That doesn't mean Samardzija isn't torn, and for good reason.

Last year, he set a Notre Dame record with 15 touchdown
receptions and became quarterback Brady Quinn's favorite target in
helping the Fighting Irish to a top-10 ranking and a berth in the
Fiesta Bowl. He caught 71 passes for 1,190 yards -- a school record
-- and was a second-team All-American.

At 6-foot-5 and with great hands, Samardzija is considered a
solid NFL prospect by his coach, Charlie Weis. A few publications
already have listed him among the top receivers for the upcoming
season.

Despite those football credentials, Samardzija signed with the
Cubs after he was drafted in the fifth round of June's amateur
draft. He was 8-2 with a 4.32 ERA for the Irish baseball team this
past spring in helping Notre Dame reach the NCAA tournament.

"It had nothing to do with money or dollar signs or anything,"
Samardzija insists. "It maybe had a little bit to do with the team
that drafted me ... but after that, it was just about me wanting to
get out and compete and play the game that I love."

"I guess you could stereotype as you thought he was going to be
a little bigheaded just considering what he's done and where he's
been and the kind of publicity he's gotten," said Rocky Roquet,
his roommate on the road with the Hawks. "But he hasn't once
offered up anything about how he's done this or how he's done
that."

In his final start with Boise, Samardzija hit 92 mph or 94 mph,
depending on the radar gun, while a small group of Notre Dame
faithful watched in the bleachers. One fan wore Samardzija's No. 83
Notre Dame jersey and a Chicago Cubs hat.

He displayed two strong pitches -- a fastball consistently in the
low 90s and a slider -- but scouts noted his fastball has little
movement despite good location. Samardzija was pleased with the
development of his changeup while with the Hawks.

Samardzija's quest to play both sports is nothing new to his
manager. McFarland coached the likes of Quincy Carter, Patrick Pass
and Josh Booty in his various minor-league stops, all of whom ended
up going with football.

Only having to worry about pitching should make it easier for
Samardzija in his attempt to play both sports, McFarland believes.
All of his previous two-sport athletes were position players who
struggled with being consistent at the plate.

"It's a unique situation, but I think he's got a better chance
as a pitcher as long as he stays healthy," McFarland said. "He's
got some nice options ahead of him, there's no doubt about that."