Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

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Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

Toward the end of last season, Jeff Samardzija punctuated a conversation about his future by saying something like this: It would be a shame if I won all those games somewhere else.

Samardzija wasnt bragging or making threats. No one knew who exactly would be running the Cubs or picking up the option year on his contract.

Its just that Samardzija was finally starting to see results and felt like he was on the verge of another breakthrough. He knew the organization had invested a lot of capital in him, and not just the 10 million.

A Chicago guy who grew up in Indiana and starred at Notre Dame wasnt satisfied with being a pretty good reliever, or leaving with unfinished business.

After Theo Epstein took over at Clark and Addison, Samardzija met with the Cubs president and laid out a daily plan for how he would train in Arizona and transform himself into a frontline starter.

The entire city will see how far Samardzija has come on Friday at Wrigley Field, when he takes the ball against the White Sox for the start of a three-game crosstown series.

These are some of my favorite games of the year, Samardzija said. All of Chicago is watching. The place is packed. Its rowdy. Its the atmosphere you want to pitch in.

Samardzija loves the bright lights. Thats one reason why former general manager Jim Hendry and current scouting director Tim Wilken took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft and gave him a big contract to give up his NFL ambitions.

Thats another reason why the Epstein administration thinks Samardzija and Matt Garza could be difference-makers if the Cubs one day get back to October.

During the offseason, Samardzija purposely moved to his place in Arizona, a distraction-free zone where he joked there is nothing to do except work out and play golf.

Samardzija has the long hair, the dude personality and the Notre Dame pedigree, but that image doesnt quite fit someone who grew up in a strong middle-class family that wasnt afraid of hard work.

I only got in there because I could play ball, not because I could pay tuition, he said with a laugh.

Samardzija has a great sense of humor, and hes clearly comfortable in his own skin. He gets it in a way other professional athletes around the city might not.

Samardzija mentioned how hes looking forward to pitching at Comiskey next month. In his mind, thats what it is.

Its still the Sears Tower, he said. Were stuck in our ways around here.

Samardzija was asked to name his favorite call from White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson.

There are a lot of good ones, Samardzija said. I always liked the ones where he just didnt talk for about an inning-and-a-half. And then all of a sudden hed be like The 2-2two outs Where are the other 15 pitches?

That was when DJ (Darrin Jackson) was there, too. I loved watching those guys. Theyre entertaining. Theyre fun to watch. Theyre fun to listen to. You could always get a good nap in during the Sox game.

Samardzija is a good talker, but he has the numbers to back it up now (4-1, 2.89 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings). After all those growing pains and trips back down to Triple-A Iowa, it wouldnt have felt quite right to put them up in another uniform.

Id rather win games here for the Cubs than anywhere else, Samardzija said. Its where I want to be. I only said that because I had some confidence that I was going to be here and that things were going to go the way I thought they were going to go.

So now its up to me to do what I can this year and next year and really prove to them that I belong here for a long time.

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

The McDonald's All-American Games return to the United Center for the seventh consecutive year on Wednesday night as the nation's elite boys and girls high school basketball players take the floor.

The 40th annual games begin with the girls game at 4 p.m. while the boys game will follow at 6 p.m.

The 2017 McDonald's game won't have a lot of local talent to keep an eye on, besides Chicago native and center Brandon McCoy, but the national Class of 2017 is still a fun group to check out for local basketball fans.

Headlined by top prospects like small forward Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), center DeAndre Ayton (Arizona),  center Wendell Carter (Duke) and point guard Trevon Duval (uncommitted), this year's McDonald's game features a lot of flashy guards, high-flying wings and talented big men.

Over the years, fans at the United Center have been able to see some of the NBA's best young players before they went to college as alums of recent McDonald's games include Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Karl-Anthony Towns.

You can view the full rosters for the 2017 McDonald's All-American Games here

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

PHOENIX – Where the relationship between Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox goes beyond 2017 remains to play out with their third season together. At this point, however, despite a combined total of nine wins over their first two, the critical bond between coach and general manager appears both clear and solid.
 
Which is no small state of affairs with the growing pressure on both and the organization, pressure that will only intensify if the on-field fortunes of their team does not begin to dramatically reverse. And both know it. Losing doesn't build character, it reveals it, and the same applies to a relationship; if there are cracks, adversity of the kind the Bears have endured the past 32 games will widen and expose them.
 
That relationship has been the subject of speculation virtually since its inception, when Pace hired Fox following the end of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. Much of it centered around who was in fact making the final decisions on personnel and who was the advisor, with some positing that Fox was in fact the final authority if only because age, seniority and experience. The primacy of Pace, however, has become clearer with each decision and traces or shadings of any fractiousness are conspicuously absent.
 
"His people skills are tremendous," Fox said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. "His evaluation skills are very good. I think humility is always a great quality in this business. And I've seen that. He's the same guy. He hasn't changed. Sometimes people get [elevated] positions, whatever position that may be and they change. It's just how some people react. And I haven't seen that."
 
Pace, who recently turned 40, is by his own description wanting buy-in on decisions. In the cases of free agency, which have involved the high-dollar commitments designed to have immediate payoff, he has identified pro targets and involved Fox in the decisions.
 
Looking for an immediate hit at linebacker to upgrade the entire defense about this time last year, Pace targeted Denver leading-tackler Danny Trevathan. Fox was his first consult.
 
"Just having drafted [Trevathan] and seeing him develop and get better and his work ethic and his preparation and study habits and how he is as a teammate in the locker room," Pace said of what insight Fox provided. "Those were all things that were taken into consideration."
 
This year, with the max need of improvement, the franchise-grade decision was to make a change at quarterback. Jay Cutler effectively made the decision on himself and he was out. Whether Mike Glennon is or is not an upgrade will play out this year, but Fox was involved in and endorsed the decision to go in a decidedly less-experienced direction.

[RELATED - No signs Bears are locked into drafting a QB in 2017]
 
Pace had attempted in the past to trade for Glennon, which Fox agreed with. Fox had familiarity with Glennon from his time coaching in Carolina.
 
"I was in North Carolina when [Glennon] was playing [at N.C. State], actually," Fox recalled. "I was exposed to two guys there. A good friend of mine was the head coach at NC State. Both Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon were coming through at that period in time, so I got exposed to them, watching games and kinda following them.
 
"And obviously evaluating both of them coming out, they were in different schools then. So I had a high opinion of them then. And then really [Glennon] was talked about a little bit before this year as a potential guy to get, and then this year, being free and without any kind of compensation, we dove in pretty good and feel good about it."
 
Most expectations are that the Bears will not repeat a three-win season, and that an improvement from the first two years keeps both Pace and Fox in their jobs. Key players (Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Kevin White) returning from injuries, free-agency upgrades on both sides of the ball and a draft class currently with two picks in the first 36 point to perhaps the kind of turnaround Fox has produced (in years two) at Carolina and Denver.
 
Fox did not dwell on what the roster was or wasn't when he arrived, or on how much of an overhaul Pace needed to do when he took over from Phil Emery and brought in Fox to replace Marc Trestman. But the reality was there.
 
"Going back to a lot of the changes, we've had a lot of change," Fox said. "I think we're better for it. Unfortunately, you can't walk around with your chest out about that because of our record the last two years. But I have total confidence and [Pace] has done an outstanding job and will continue to.
 
"I understand you have to win. And I finally feel like we're in striking distance."