Vine Line EXTRA: Jeff Samardzija

VL cover Sept 08 4C.jpgMany of our subscribers should be receiving the September issue of Vine Line this week, featuring Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds as the cover story. As we were working on this issue, it became obvious that this centerfield tandem — a couple of castaways from the Blue Jays and Padres — is emblematic of what has made the Cubs so strong this year. They’ve starred on the offensive and defensive sides, offering a combination of pure talent, grit and experience.

Let’s open it up: What do you think Reed and Jim have brought to this team? How valuable have they been to this team as it sits 33 games over .500?

Also, in my “Leading Off” column this month, I chronicled Samardzija’s path to the majors, discussing his mixed track record in the minor leagues and the organization’s aggressive promotion of him all the way to Chicago. We’ve all seen his results as a reliever, a role in which he has been able to rely on his hard, sinking fastball and the splitter he reintroduced this year into his repertoire.

But I also learned a lot about how Samardzija enjoyed his first few weeks in the majors, when he developed his fastball and the value of his football experience to the baseball diamond. As a Vine Line blog exclusive, here’s Jeff Samardzija in his own words.

— Sean Ahmed

On his first few weeks in the majors: It’s been pretty wild. I’ve talked to a lot of people. Been all over the place. Had a lot of people come to the games. It’s been a lot of fun. And it’s kind of been how you want it to go.

On his family: Pretty much everyone lives in Northwest Indiana. Pretty much all my family and friends have been to a game. I wanted to get them up here as soon as possible, kind of show them around and then after that we’ll break it down so it won’t be such a big herd. [laughs]

On his two-seam fastball becoming his top pitch: I always had OK movement on my [fastball], so it was always an action pitch for me so I could get some groundouts, stuff like that. Probably my sophomore, junior year of college, it really took off as my go-to pitch. I think my arm got a little stronger, I started throwing a little harder, so it became a better pitch for me. And the more you throw it, the more comfortable you get with it — that’s kind of where we’re at with it right now. Especially after throwing it all of last season and most of this season, it’s pretty much finding its little niche. Feels good.

On the value of his football experience: Absolutely it carries over. Anytime you have a chance to play against great competition in anything, it builds you up as an athlete. When you’re playing against great competition, and they’re good and they want to win just as bad as you do, whether it’s basketball, football or baseball, whatever. So long as you’re out there competing at the highest level you possibly can, it’s going to help you. I think that was a big part of it, playing on big stages in front of a lot of people.

On where he was coming out of college: I think I was a little more advanced in football, obviously just because of the time I was putting toward it in college. But really I love baseball, and I wanted to see where I could go. That played a big part in my decision. I just knew if I wanted to get into one sport–doing two sports takes your time away from one or the other–I was really excited to get down to one and really concentrate on it.

On whether choosing baseball was the right decision: I think that’s still yet to be determined. I obviously knew it was a good choice for me from Day 1, but obviously, it’s nice when you go out and succeed. So I’ll go out the rest of the season and see how it goes. But I know my decision was the right one from the beginning, but it doesn’t hurt to go out and have some success on the field.

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