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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Happy (Belated) Samardzija Day!

As you might expect, the minor league team I'm working for this summer doesn't get too much attention from outside the immediate area, save for a handful of parent club diehards. However, last night's game was an exception. Our press box - usually home to eight regulars - included an extra photographer and a writer from the Chicago Tribune. The occasion? Jeff Samardzija's pro baseball debut.

Samardzija is Notre Dame's single-season record holder in receiving yards and touchdown receptions, and he's likely to be the highest receiver picked in next year's NFL draft. But he also wants to play pro baseball, and he was drafted by the Cubs earlier this month. The Cubs signed him to a deal that will pay out a bonus of over $7 million if he focuses on baseball alone.

Rarely does an athlete in short-season A ball get the attention that Samardzija, a college football star, does. Our team draws 3,000 a game on a good night; Notre Dame plays in front of 80,000 fans routinely. The players at this level are rarely on a national radar to the extent that Samardzija is (although Jeremy Papelbon, the brother of Red Sox closer Jon Papelbon, is Samardzija's teammate in Boise).

Anyway, among the interns, who are fairly sports-savvy, Samardzija's appearance was notably buzzworthy. One of the things we must do is hand out Carl's Jr. coupons if our team scores five runs in a game; this happened in the first two games of the series. The first time it happened, one intern reported that Samardzija did not take his coupon for a free sourdough breakfast sandwich on his way out of the park. The following night, though, he did take a coupon for a free burger.

We dubbed Tuesday "Samardzija Day," and feigned apologies for not getting each other cards to mark the occasion. Three of us in the press box randomly drew numbers from 0-5 as part of a Jeff Samardzija Strikeout Pool. I drew 2 and 4; if he fanned that many hitters in his scheduled two innings of work, I would win.

Samardzija took the mound and retired the first two batters on ground balls. Then Will Thompson, the league's leading hitter, mashed a pitch over the right field fence. Samardzija followed that up by plunking the next hitter and then allowing a single before finishing the inning on a fly out. No strikeouts. We weren't even sure if he would come out for the second inning, since he was on a 35-pitch leash. When he did come out, he started off by hitting the leadoff man. He coaxed two more groundouts, and then he drilled another batter. The next hitter stroked an RBI single, followed by an out on the basepaths.

And that was it for Samardzija. His line: 2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (both earned), no walks, no strikeouts (I would not have predicted that one), and three hit batsmen.

As it turned out, the real story of the game was our starting pitcher, Adam Cowart, who outdueled Samardzija and his replacements. Cowart was perfect through 5 1/3, and he and two relievers combined on a 2-hit, 10-strikeout, no earned run performance.

It's just a shame that Samardzija's appearance had to come so early in the season. I kind of got the feeling that the buzz his start created won't be matched by any other game this year.

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