CHICAGO — Who would have dreamed that on a weekend when Notre Dame, NFL and Cubs seasons overlap that Jeff Samardzija’s role would be reduced to . . . cheerleader.
That’s basically what has happened to Samardzija after the Cubs put his arm on ice to save what is becoming a valuable product.
So what does a starting pitcher who doesn’t pitch anymore actually do with his time?
“Just trying to stay busy,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys here and any time you can help out some of these guys … just try to be available for them any time you can.”
Samardzija’s season has been turned into “playing catch early and working out,” and finding that every “fifth day is a little vacant.”
Being shut out of the action isn’t what the former Notre Dame All-American receiver-turned-baseball player is used to in September.
But for the first time, at age 27 and after five years of trying, Samardzija feels comfortable in his baseball home after his first season as starter that produced a 9-13 record and 3.81 earned-run average.
He even spent Saturday night, while his Irish were upsetting Michigan State, “at a Missouri place” that had the Notre Dame game on one television.
Is he really over the football feeling once the weather turns crisp?
“The smell is always there. It’s ingrained in you so long,” he admitted. “But I’m OK. I’ve had success in baseball and working hard for everything and doing what I’ve done. That makes it a whole lot easier.
“When you struggle and you’re not getting out of it what you want to get out of it, that makes it tougher. I mean, that’s just being honest, it makes a difference. But it also is a driving force to have success in baseball, to understand how hard it would be to sit there on the couch and look back (and wonder what if).”
Watching his baseball teammates play Pittsburgh is especially hard on Samardzija, who was 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in two starts against the Pirates.
After all, this is September and his sports are in full swing.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” he said about not competing. “You get into a routine, and your body knows when it’s ready to go. I’m not too used to sitting and watching.
“It hasn’t happened in a long time. It’s hard to watch real competing going on and not just a pickup game and not participating in it.”
Television cameras captured him Saturday, one week after his last appearance, in the dugout with a forlorn look on his face,
“Like a little puppy dog, huh?” he asked. “(Like) an owner that doesn’t let his puppy dog outside the house, just sitting there looking out the window. That’s what I feel like.”