Monday, July 28, 2008

Shark Makes a Splash

The newest hero of the Friendly Confines hadn't even thrown his first pitch as a Chicago Cub Friday afternoon before earning a standing ovation. Then, after finally throwing a strike, he got another. Then another when he struck out the first batter he faced. Not even a classic Rick Vaughn hurl on a pitchout (it was juuuuuusssst a bit outside) could damper the enthusiasm. Although he wound up allowing the tying run to score in a Cubs' loss, Jeff Samardzija couldn't have walked away happier in his major league debut. Well, maybe a little happier:
"I was pretty happy with how I felt on the mound, but I made two dumb pitches and it really sticks a thorn in your side after the way [ Ryan] Dempster was pitching," he said.

Samardzija, the All-America wide receiver from Notre Dame who received a five-year contract worth $10 million to give up football in 2006, admitted to a case of rookie jitters in Friday's seventh inning when he gave up a run on a single, a stolen base on which he threw a pitchout to the backstop and Jorge Cantu's double.

He had a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth before leaving for a pinch-hitter.

"The first inning I was kind of here and there," he said. "It was unacceptable on that pitchout. If we throw him out [stealing], it's a different inning."
Showcasing a high-powered fastball to go with a changeup and splitter than had the Marlins guessing more often than not, The Shark pitched four innings over the weekend, setting down all six batters he faced on Sunday for his first save and earning plaudits from manager Lou Piniella along with the easily-impressed denizens of Wrigley (anybody who knows where my fan allegiances are knows that I'm not mocking Jeff here; these are people who rise to their feet in wild excitement for pop-ups that barely clear the infield).

Alas, it wasn't a hero's welcome for all Domers this week, as Samardzija's former head coach Charlie Weis appeared for the fourth year in a row to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch, a "tradition" that Harry Caray started while with the White Sox before it got shamelessly exploited by WGN after Harry moved to the Cubs. Anyway, Weis had a rough go of it not only with the song but also the fans, who often boo the celebrity conductor on principle, particularly if they're bad, which Weis fully admits he was. At least he won't join the ranks of Jeff Gordon ("Wrigley Stadium"?) or Ozzy "I Have No Clue Where I Am" Osbourne. In addition, Weis's son Charlie Jr. got to throw out the first pitch on his 15th birthday.

Congrats to the Shark on making it this far. With many of his teammates locked in training camp battles for jobs/roster spots, and knowing that MLB is just as, if not more, cutthroat than pro football, he's climbed the ladder remarkably fast and already flashed pieces of what the Cubs deemed $10 million talent. Most of us here at Section 29 will be cheering him on - personally, and I know I speak for Paul here as well, it is not in my DNA to ever cheer for the Cubs under any circumstances.

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