CHICAGO — Former Boise Hawks pitcher Jeff Samardzija decided to give up football and stay with baseball.
The former Notre Dame receiver, projected as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft this April, agreed Friday to a $10 million, five-year contract to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. He played with the Hawks last summer. The Hawks are a short-season minor-league affiliate of the Cubs.
“Baseball is my first love. I played it my whole life,” Samardzija said.
Samardzija, a 21-year-old right-hander, was the Cubs’ fifth-round pick in last year’s amateur draft and made seven starts between Boise and Peoria, posting a 2.70 ERA.
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He returned to Notre Dame and helped the Irish make the Sugar Bowl, catching 78 passes for 1,017 yards. He also played baseball during his career at Notre Dame.
His deal includes a $2.5 million signing bonus and the Cubs hold options for a sixth and seventh seasons in 2012 and 2013. If the options are exercised, the deal would be worth $16.5 million over seven years.
Samardzija said there would be no returning to football, even though he’s headed for a stint in the minor leagues, probably starting at Class A Daytona after spring training. The deal also includes a no-trade clause.
“He has offered at any time in the five-year period to give the (signing bonus) money back. He wanted to make everything clear that there wasn’t any turning back,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
Samardzija’s fastball was clocked at 97 mph last summer and Hendry said the Cubs project him one day to a be “high-end starter.”
Samardzija, 21-6 in 50 college baseball games, said he spent 10 to 12 hours a day weighing the decision on which sport to pursue.
He said Irish football coach Charlie Weis was supportive when he told him he was turning to baseball.
“He was excited. He wished me the best and he asked for Cubs tickets,” Samardzija said.