EVERETT – The last time Jeff Samardzija was in the Puget Sound region, he was busy tearing apart the University of Washington football team’s secondary.
This time around he kept himself occupied by mowing down the Everett AquaSox lineup.
All of which made the Pacific Northwest an unexpected setting for one athlete’s attempt to become master of two domains.
This week Everett received its opportunity to witness the early stages of Samardzija’s attempt to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Brian Jordan as players who succeeded professionally in both baseball and football.
“That’s kind of the ultimate goal,” Samardzija said. “I’m going to do what I can to get there and hopefully things work out.”
Samardzija (pronounced Sa-mard-jah), who pitched five scoreless innings as the Boise Hawks defeated the Everett AquaSox on Monday, also happens to be a star wide receiver for one of the nation’s most-storied football teams, the University of Notre Dame.
And for Samardzija, this summer has been about trying to begin a professional baseball career while also preparing for his upcoming football season at Notre Dame.
“It’s baseball season right now,” Samardzija said. “When it’s baseball season I’m thinking about baseball. When it’s time to think about football I will, but that’s not for another week or two. Right now all I’m worried about is baseball, it’s where my mind is right now.”
Samardzija is considered a top pro prospect in both baseball and football.
He’s most noted for his exploits on the gridiron. Samardzija had a breakout junior season for Notre Dame in 2005, catching 71 passes for 1,190 yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns. That included a one-man demolition job on Washington, when he caught eight balls for 164 yards and a 52-yard touchdown in a 36-17 trouncing of the Huskies on Sept. 24.
Samardzija was subsequently named to multiple all-American teams and was one of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football’s top receiver. He’s considered a potential first-round selection in the 2007 NFL draft.
But Samardzija is also well regarded in baseball circles. After going 8-2 with a 4.33 earned run average in 15 starts for the Fighting Irish in the spring, he was selected in the fifth round of the baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs, who thought highly enough of Samardzija to award him a contract reported to be five years and worth up to $7.5 million.
His performances for Boise did nothing to dispell that notion. In five starts, he was 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA, including his impressive outing against Everett on Monday.
“It’s gone good,” Samardzija said about his time with Boise. “I think everything’s coming along pretty well. I’m making progress the way I wanted to and adjusting to minor-league ball, so I’m happy with how things are going.”
However, Samardzija’s introduction to professional baseball has been a little different than the average college draftee. While most new pros are finally able to devote all their energies toward baseball, Samardzija has to simultaneously absorb his baseball instruction while also getting ready for the football season.
As a result, Samardzija has spent the summer undergoing both baseball and football workouts, alternating days between the two sports.
“There’s a different kind of running,” Samardzija explained. “Baseball running is a lot of longer conditioning, keeping yourself in endurance shape. Football conditioning is sprint shape, you’ve got to be able to recover quickly. It’s just a matter of mixing those two in and coming out with a nice little combination.”
Samardzija’s baseball summer is almost over. He left Wednesday for Peoria of the full-season single-A Midwest League to spend a week with the Chiefs. Then he’s scheduled to report to Notre Dame on Aug. 1.
Samardzija has no specific plan going forward as far as focusing on one sport ahead of the other.
“As long as I can remember I’ve played both sports, so I don’t really want to pick,” Samardzija said. “I’m kind of shying away from it as long as possible.”
But if Samardzija continues to progress, it’s a choice he may not have to make.