Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
By Jim Salisbury
Matt Szczur would love to see the Chicago Cubs end their century-old drought and win the World Series in 2011.
Hes rooting for them in a big way.
But if they want to wait a few years until he makes it to Wrigley Field well, he wont complain.
That would be great, a dream come true, to be in centerfield and win a World Championship, Szczur said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
To Philadelphia-area sports fans, Szczur is the Villanova University kid who led the Wildcats football team to a national championship in 2009. Hes also the young man who took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova to help save a young girls life with a bone marrow transplant.
To Cubs officials, Szczur is all this and then some. They selected him in the fifth round of the major league draft last June and were so impressed with his play and potential in the minor leagues last summer that they have agreed to pay him 1.5 million for the coming season. The Cubs believe Szczur is worth the investment. All they asked was that Szczur give up his aspirations of playing in the NFL so he can focus completely on baseball.
The Cubs have gotten to know Matt as a baseball player and a person and they wanted to do everything they could to ensure he remained a Cub, said Rex Gary, Szczurs Philadelphia-based agent.
Szczur, a receiver and return specialist who was MVP of the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision game, was a candidate to be selected as high as the fourth round in the NFL draft. He had been in Florida preparing to showcase his talents in the Senior Bowl when he accepted an offer to have dinner with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry on Sunday night.
Hendry made his pitch.
Good-bye, Senior Bowl. Hello, Cubs.
Jim and I had a very nice dinner, Szczur said. There was no pressure at all. I just looked at the figure they offered and it was tough to pass up. I love both sports. Going this way just seems right.
Im definitely going to miss football, but the way I look at it is I was going to have to give up one either way. I would have missed which ever one I would have given up equally. I dont really have a first love I love both. It was a hard decision, but I think its the right one for me.
Szczur pronounced Caesar is a 21-year-old product of Erma, N.J., and Lower Cape May Regional High School. He is 12 credits shy of a Liberal Arts degree at Villanova.
On the football field at Villanova, Szczur won All-America honors. On the baseball field, he was an All-Big East outfielder, finishing with a career batting average of .392 in two seasons.
Szczur had an impressive pro debut with the Cubs last summer, hitting .347 with a .414 on-base percentage in 25 games at the rookie and Single A levels. He began his pro career with a 21-game hitting streak. His season ended with a trip to Wrigley Field, where he took batting practice with the big team before a game.
That was unbelievable because I was in one of the last groups and the stands were full, Szczur said. It was crazy, a great feeling.
I just loved the pro ball experience. It was so much fun being able to focus on baseball fulltime.
Szczur, 5-11 and 200 pounds, has excellent speed and strength to go with an impressive bat. Scouts believe hes only begun to scratch the surface of his baseball potential and will benefit by concentrating fulltime on the sport.
During his time at Villanova, Szczur also shined off the field. He missed 10 baseball games last season while undergoing a procedure to donate bone marrow to a young girl with leukemia. Szczur doesnt know the girls identity. Maybe someday shell watch him play in Wrigley Field.
I missed a few games and spent a couple of days in a hospital bed, but I got to help save a life, Szczur said. It was a great experience.
So, too, was his first season of professional baseball.
So much so that hes ready for more, even if it means giving up football.
This is the first time Ill be giving baseball 100 percent concentration, Szczur said. Im excited to see what it brings to me.
Jim Salisbury is CSNPhilly.com's Phillies Insider.