Jeff Samardzija admits Cubs commitment didn’t include dumping girlfriend
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 23, 2013 1:12AM
Jeff Samardzija’s committed relationship is with the Cubs, who will start him Opening Day. | Marcio Jose Sanchez~AP
Updated: April 25, 2013 6:51AM
MESA, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija says he’s ready for Opening Day. His six-inning start the other night — when his fastball hummed at 95 mph-plus all night — said so, too.
But the big Cubs right-hander will tell you he was ready for this for more than a year. He was so sure of himself when the new front office and new manager took over that he made a sales pitch that team president Theo Epstein recounted to a national columnist recently:
‘‘I think the best way to help this team is by being a starting pitcher. I’m eliminating everything in my life that gets in the way. I’m dumping my girlfriend. I’m moving to Arizona. I just want the chance to show you that I’m a starting pitcher.’’
In need of starting pitching, the Cubs . . . wait a minute. Dumping his girlfriend?
Who does that because he wants to start?
Turns out that’s not exactly how it went.
‘‘I really just wanted to level with him, that I didn’t have any distractions,’’ Samardzija said when asked to clarify. ‘‘Really, the best way I could describe it was by saying that I didn’t have a girlfriend.’’
Not that it had anything to do with his job status.
‘‘It was a little bit true,’’ he said with a smile. ‘‘Because I had broken up with my girlfriend. It was about six or seven months before that, so a little different.’’
If the team prez chooses to hyperbolize Samardzija’s commitment to a role he thrived in much of last season, guys in the clubhouse can only hope the hype isn’t any bigger than Samardzija’s performance, especially over the first month or two of the season.
With Matt Garza (strained latissimus dorsi) not expected back in the rotation until sometime in May and Scott Baker (elbow) out indefinitely, how the Cubs start will say almost everything about how many of them last in Chicago through July.
‘‘There’s been a lot said about if we get to the All-Star break and we’re not winning, there’s going to be a fire sale,’’ fifth starter Carlos Villanueva said. ‘‘We hear that. I don’t want to hear that. . . . I really do think we have a chance.’’
It will have a lot to do with guys such as Villanueva, who’s in the rotation because of the injuries.
But it starts with Samardzija, starting a week from Monday in Pittsburgh. And nobody knows that more than the Indiana kid with the Notre Dame football pedigree.
‘‘I asked for it,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want it. I asked to be in this situation, and have it on my shoulders. I’m going to go with it and go as far as I can go and see where it ends. But if we can hang in there for a few weeks until we start getting these reinforcements back, I think it’d be something good to hang your hat on — that you did pitch well and were a big part of keeping this team in that first month where we need to be.’’
Samardzija, who finished especially strong last season after a rough stretch in June, has one more tuneup start to prepare for the opener. But in his mind he’s been preparing for this for years, and that impassioned plea that first day with Epstein and manager Dale Sveum was only the flashpoint for his career rebirth.
‘‘I wasn’t taken aback,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It was actually kind of a, ‘Yeah, man, if this works out, it could be pretty special.’ ’’
Maybe that’s why Epstein recounts the conversation in such vivid, active terms.
‘‘Well, hey, that’s fine, I dumped my girlfriend. That sounds like a better story,’’ Samardzija said, smiling and denying there’s any Manti Te’o element to this alleged girlfriend.
‘‘No, you’ve got to have one to dump one,’’ he said, leaving out what girlfriend(s) he might have found since.
Regardless, the message is still clear today.
‘‘I just really wanted to let the staff know that I was all in with this team,” he said, ‘‘and I wasn’t going to have any distractions on the outside, and I was committed to being the guy that they needed me to be for this team.’’