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Cubs’ Samardzija happy NFL labor mess isn’t his

Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzijsays he never has regretted picking baseball career over NFL.  |  Matt York~AP

Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija says he never has regretted picking a baseball career over the NFL. | Matt York~AP

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Updated: June 26, 2011 12:18AM



MESA, Ariz. — Still think Jeff Samardzija should have played football instead of signing with the Cubs four years ago?

Still think Samardzija wonders what life might have been like as a Notre Dame-bred NFL receiver instead of an Iowa-trained National League reliever?

Samardzija has remained steadfast in the certainty of his decision at every career turn since signing a $10 million deal to give up football after an All-America season at Notre Dame in 2006. But never has that been more the case than in the last week or so, when he viewed the NFL’s labor Armageddon from the safe distance of a major-league clubhouse.

‘‘Obviously, things take different paths and careers take different paths,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘But where I’m standing today, I’m very happy. And it’s definitely kind of fun to sit and watch what’s going on with that — and especially to have buddies who are in the middle of that.’’

Samardzija long ago grew weary of the ‘‘Ever regret not choosing football?’’ questions that became more frequent each time he was shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation or the majors and the minors since an impressive summer debut in 2008.

Even last month, a few minutes of tossing a football in the clubhouse with teammates turned into multi-ple media references to the career that might have been.

‘‘I’m a big believer in you make decisions for the right reasons,’’ said Samardzija, whose peace of mind in going to spring training with a determined role seems to have offset the potential pressure of being out of contract options. ‘‘Anyone who thought I didn’t think about this decision for months upon months — and, within those months, hours of every day — you’re wrong.

‘‘It was a very hard decision. But at the end of the day, I made the decision based on what my heart was telling me and also what my brain was telling me with what I wanted to do and what made me happy as a person in general.’’

Samardzija, 26, is anything but established as a big-leaguer. And home runs allowed in his last two outings have marred what otherwise has been a strong spring. But barring a major surprise two or three weeks from now, he’ll break camp in the big leagues, while pals and would-be teammates in football wonder whether they’ll be allowed to practice in the next few months.

‘‘All I’ve heard is that guys just want to get a deal done; they just want to play football,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s what you find in any sport: Guys just want to work. You say this is for fun and we’re playing a sport for a job, but it’s pretty serious. These are guys’ lives, and they want to make sure they’re in a good situation, too.’’

Samardzija said he hasn’t heard any specific stories from his NFL friends about personal preparations for a lockout, such as changing spending habits or anything. And ‘‘fear’’ is too strong a word for the emotions he senses.

‘‘They’re not so much afraid,’’ he said. ‘‘I think they’re just hoping that a deal does get done and that it’s a good deal for them. That’s what I’ve pulled from it from talking to buddies. They just want to play. But there’s a whole lot that goes into it, I guess.’’

Samardzija, who said he appreciates the relative labor peace between Major League Baseball and the union, won’t pick a side in the NFL conflict publicly. But he knows he likes where he sits as it plays out, even if he won’t admit to imagining what it would be like from inside the hash marks.

‘‘If you allow yourself to open up that door, then I think you’re going to be opening up a whole lot of other doors,’’ he said. ‘‘I never really let it get there.’’



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