Jan. 19, 2007
CHICAGO (AP) - Jeff Samardzija decided to give up football and stay with baseball.
The former Notre Dame receiver, projected as a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, agreed Friday to a $10 million, five-year contract to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.
"Baseball is my first love. I played it my whole life," Samardzija said.
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 seven years.
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 said.
Samardzija's fastball was clocked at 97 mph last summer and Hendry said the Cubs project him one day to a be "high end starter."
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 with 15.
"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.