Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

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Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

Jeff Samardzija has lived through it already so he understands this as well as anyone: Dont believe the hype.

The media has gone from wondering if Samardzija would even make the 2011 team or if he had any minor-league options left to projecting that he will be a No. 1 starter for years to come.

Even if that All-American football background meant Samardzija needed extra time to learn about the art of pitching, it also undoubtedly helped prepare him for being a Cub.

Though talks about a possible long-term extension didnt gain much momentum, Samardzija is now viewed as a foundation piece for Theo Epsteins rebuilding project. The Cubs wrapped up their arbitration cases on Friday with Samardzija (2.64 million, his 2012 salary, plus 125,000 in performance bonuses) and reliever James Russell (1.075 million).

Samardzija hung out in South Florida with his buddies for the BCS title match, though he didnt actually go to the game and watch Alabama destroy Notre Dame. And, no, he didnt see Manti Teos girlfriend either. But he understands how the game is played.

Its Notre Dame, Samardzija said. You understand when you go to Notre Dame, you take on a different role of being under the spotlight. If things go great, its a great place to be at. You get tons of accolades for it. You get all the front-page articles. You get Sports Illustrated. You get ESPN.

But then if something doesnt go well, you pay for that, too. You need to understand if you go to that school, you have to be a responsible, mature adult.

Thats about as far as Samardzija whos probably the best interview in the Cubs clubhouse wanted to go with Teo, the Notre Dame linebacker drawn into a bizarre social media hoax.

You cant really have a comment on it, Samardzija said. Its not really your personal life and its not what Im doing. And on top of that, theres so much speculation. Some people want to believe them. Some people dont. To sit and listen to whats going on, its really arbitrary.

I dont really have an opinion on it until enough information comes out to where you can say who was right and who was wrong. You cant say too much about it (now). Obviously, thats what drives media and everything the speculation. But ultimately you got to understand (and) assume that he made a bad decision and you learn from it. You just hope its not the other side of the coin, thats all.

The perception has swung from Samardzija being a 10 million bust to the marketing department now making him a reason to buy tickets. A breakthrough 2012 season 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings ended when he was shut down in September.

Looking back on it, was that the right call?

Absolutely not, Samardzija said. I want to pitch. Period. But, again, I dont make those decisions. Well answer that question in the future. At the end of this year (and) the year after that, if Im strong and healthy and ready to go, then obviously its going to be a great decision.

I dont ever think when youre healthy not playing is a good decision. I dont care what sport it is, anywhere youre at. You only get so many opportunities to play the sport youre playing. You need to take advantage of every chance you get. But I do understand why they did it and the reason for it. Because Im a reasonable man, I understand thats OK. The thing is we have common ground. We want to win.

As a whole, Im pretty stubborn. But if you get four guys in a room that say this is whats going to be best for our team in the future, then Im going to listen to it.

That attitude is why Samardzija is supposed to be a leader on the next contending Cubs team.

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”  

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. exited a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness" after trying to make a diving catch in the third inning, though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

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But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."