Tag Archives: Sam Samardzija Jr.

Samardzija chooses baseball over football, makes majors, IHSBCA Hall of Fame

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Samardzija grew up in a hard-nosed atmosphere.
Father Sam’s favorite coach was Indiana University’s Bob Knight. His favorite team was the 1985 Chicago Bears. Dad played semi-pro hockey in the Windy City.
“My upbringing was pretty intense with my dad,” said Samardzija Friday, Jan. 13, the day he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “Luckily I was the second son. He worked the kinks out with my older brother and I kind of loosened up a little bit on me.
“I ended up having a good run there out of Valpo.”
Sam Samardzija Jr., was an all-state football player who became an agent for Wasserman Baseball representing his brother. He is the first-born son of Sam and Debora Samardzija. She died in 2001 at 46.
Jeff Samardzija, who turns 38 on Jan. 23, played wide receiver and helped Valparaiso (Ind.) High School to an IHSAA Class 5A state runner-up finish as a junior. The 2003 graduate was runner-up as Indiana Mr. Football and Indiana Mr. Baseball as a senior. McCutcheon’s Clayton Richard won both awards.
“He is the standard,” said Samardzija of Richard, who went on to pitch in the big leagues and is now head coach at Lafayette Jeff. “Quarterbacks — they get all the love.”
Samardzija, who is of Serbian decent, went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and was also allowed to played baseball for the Fighting Irish.
“My first two years in football at Notre Dame I wasn’t very good and didn’t put up very good numbers,” said Samardzija, who caught 24 passes for 327 yards and no touchdowns in 2003 and 2004 for the Tyrone Willingham-coached Irish. “I had a lot of success in baseball my freshman and sophomore year.”
It was as a frosh football player that Samardzija received his nickname of “Shark.”
“When you start freshman year you get hazed by the older guys,” said Samardzija. “I didn’t have beautiful, thick facial hair like I do now.”
One day an ND veteran tagged him as “Shark Face” after an animated character.
“I had a good football season and somebody on ABC — (Bob) Griese or sometime said, ‘The Shark is running through the middle of the defense,’” said Samardzija, who caught 77 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 TDs in 2005 and 78 for 1,017 and 13 in 2006 with ND coached by Charlie Weis. “From then on people started calling me Shark.”
Samardzija did not pitch that much in high school.
“When I got to Notre Dame they made me pitch because football didn’t want me to play the outfield,” said Samardzija, who went 5-3, posted a 2.95 earned run average and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine in 2004 then followed that up with 8-1 and 8-2 marks in 2005 and 2006 for head coach Paul Mainieri. “It was a great scenario. You don’t have to do off-season conditioning in football. You don’t have to do fall ball in baseball. You get to pick-and-choose where you want to go.
“Being on a full scholarship for football, the baseball coaches loved me. I was free. They didn’t ride me too hard. They just wanted me to show up on Saturdays and pitch. I threw a bullpen on Wednesdays. Everything else was football.”
After Samardzija did well as a collegiate pitcher and then excelled in football as a junior he now had to decide if his path going forward would be on the gridiron or the diamond.
“I had a dilemma on my hands,” said Samardzija. “I had given so much to football my whole life. It was never travel baseball. It was always travel football.
“Baseball was always my release. It was never work and it was never a chore to be out there on the baseball field.
“I had to fight for all my respect in baseball because I was labeled as a football guy.”
With the National Football League showing interest, two-time baseball and football All-American Samardzija was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
He made his MLB debut in 2008. He was with the Cubs 2008 into the 2014 season when he went to Oakland Athletics. That was the same year he was chosen for the All-Star Game though he did not play.
Samardzija played for the Chicago White Sox in 2015 and San Francisco Giants 2016-2020. He won 12 games in 2016 and 11 in 2019.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound right-hander with a four-seam fastball that got up to 99 mph appeared in 364 games (241 starts) and went 80-106 with one save and a 4.15 earned run average.
“It’s tough when you have to choose a path,” said Samardzija. “I made the right decision.”
A gift from the family and more than 40 donors, Samardzija Field at Tower Park is a youth diamond in Valparaiso.
Mostly off the grid in retirement, Samardzija is an avid fisherman and has spent plenty of time in recent years on the water.
Sometimes “Shark” encounters sharks.
“When I’m in Tampa we’ll get out there,” said Samardzija. “You don’t want to catch them, but sometimes they show up.
“I’ve enjoyed kind of just pulling back. It was a go-go-go life there for a long time.”
Samardzija and partner Andrea have two children.

Jeff Samardzija. (San Francisco Giants Photo)
One of Jeff Samardzija’s career stops was with the Chicago White Sox.

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to induct Weybright, Storen, Samardzija, Johnston, Johnson in ’23

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coach Kelby Weybright, players Drew Storen and Jeff Samarzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson make up the 2023 induction class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Weybright is a graduate of North White High School. Following graduation, he attended and played baseball for three years at Blackburn College before earning his bachelor degree from Indiana University.
Following one season as an assistant at North White, Weybright spent six seasons as an assistant and 11 seasons as the head coach at Norwell High School where he compiled a record of 243-93 with two NHC, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles with an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2006 and 3A state championships in 2003 and 2007 before retiring in 2012 to coach his sons in travel baseball.
The 2007 team went 35-0 and finished ranked 10th nationally (Collegiate Baseball/Easton Sports). The 2006 and 2007 squads went a combined 64-2.
Weybright coached 22 players that played collegiately with six IHSBCA North All-Stars and four Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections.
Two NHC Coach of the Year honors (2006 and 2007) came Weybright’s way as well as two IHSBCA Coach of the Year awards (2003 and 2007).
He was recognized as a National High School Baseball Coaches Association District and National Coach of the Year in 2007.
Weybright is currently athletic director at Norwell and continues to work with the baseball program during its summer development period and occasionally during the season as time permits.

Storen is a 2007 graduate of Brownsburg High School.
As a freshman, he was the No. 2 pitcher (3-0, 1.17 earned run average) behind Lance Lynn on the eventual 2004 state runner-up.
As a sophomore, right-hander Storen went 9-0 with 86 strikeouts in 57 innings and helped the Bulldogs to go 35-0 and win the 2005 state championship while earning a No. 2 ranking in the country from Baseball America.
The Indianapolis Star called that team, “The greatest high school team in Indiana history.”
For his career, Storen finished 28-2 with 270 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.61. At the plate, he hit .400 with 16 home runs.
He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007, but attended Stanford University.
In two seasons with the Cardinal, he was named to three Freshman All-American teams and was twice chosen first team All-Pac 12. He got the win in Game 1 of the 2008 College World Series.
Storen led Stanford as a sophomore in saves, wins and appearances and was named team MVP for 2009.
He finished his collegiate career with a 12-4 record, 26 saves, 59 appearances and a 3.84 ERA.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was taken by the Washington Nationals as the 10th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.
In eight seasons with the Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds, he went 29-18 with 99 saves, a 3.45 ERA and 417 strikeouts. He made six postseason appearances for Washington in 2012 and 2014 with one win and one save.
Drew and his wife Brittani currently reside in Carmel and have two boys — Jace (6) and Pierce (2).

Samardzija is a 2003 Valparaiso High School graduate is considered one of the best athletes in Indiana history.
By his senior year, he was recognized as one of the state’s best football players and was the runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Football award. Samardzija was a three-time all-state player and was selected to the Indiana All-Star team.
In baseball, he was a runner-up for the Mr. Baseball award as a senior, a three-year varsity letterman and an All-State honoree as a center fielder. He hit .375 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in as a junior and .481 with eight homers and 50 RBIs as a senior.
As one of the nation’s top football recruits, he chose Notre Dame where he was also invited to pitch for the baseball team.
Samardzija was a two-time All American wide receiver, a two-time All-American pitcher and a two-time runner up for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s best receiver.
Despite his football skills and the likelihood of being drafted as a first-round pick in the National Football League, Samardzija opted to play professional baseball after pitching for the Irish for three seasons.
The right-hander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He made his MLB debut for the Cubs in July 2008 and went on to pitch 13 full seasons.
In addition to the Cubs, Samardzija pitched for the Oakland Athletics (2014), Chicago White Sox (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-2020). He was named an All-Star in 2014.
Jeff and older brother Sam represent a rare achievement in VHS history with each being selected as All-State performers in both football and baseball.

Johnston graduated from Western Michigan University and was a minor league outfielder from 1952-67.
He played for the Indianapolis Indians from 1960-1966 and played in the
Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators organizations.
He was a career .286 hitter and had 525 stolen bases. He led his league in stolen bases six straight years (1953-58). He paced the International League in 1956 with 182.
Johnston was a minor league manager for nine years and was the with the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., in an administrative role.
In 2020, he was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame. Johnston served as a scout, scouting supervisor, cross-checker and minor league coordinator roles before retiring in 2019. He currently resides in Nashville, Tenn.

Wayne Johnson spent 12 years as a varsity assistant to Greg Silver at Mooresville before spending two stints as the head coach at Brownsburg High School.
At the helm of the Bulldog program, he compiled 278 wins over 15 years.
During his first stint from (1987-2000), Johnson-led teams took home sectional championships in 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1996. The Bulldogs were also regional champions in 1996.
Then on short notice, Johnson was asked to return to coach Brownsburg in 2011 and won another sectional title.
While Johnson’s victories and championships are impressive, his contributions to Brownsburg baseball far exceed his won/loss record.
The 1990 Central Suburban Athletic Conference Coach of the Year was instrumental in the construction of Brownsburg’s home baseball field — Mary Beth Rose Park.
Johnson partnered with countless members of the community to design and build the stadium and it has served to host over a 1,000 games since the spring of 1988.
Rose Park is still considered a premier location to play baseball in Indiana.
Johnson was a big supporter of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and it fundraising efforts.
He also owned a business, Johnson Sports Collectibles in addition to teaching for 39 years at Mooresville and Brownsburg High Schools. Johnson impacted many lives through the game of baseball and his presence is sorely missed. He is being inducted posthumously as he passed away on Dec. 19, 2018.

Inductees will be honored during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The ceremony is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2023 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing. The clinic is Jan. 12-14.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from McKeon on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

2023 IHSBCA Hall of Fame class. (Graphic by Dan Hardy Hill)

Ohio State righty Burhenn focuses on pounding strike zone

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Garrett Burhenn likes to get the plate umpire throwing up his right hand on a regular basis.

If arbiter is that means the Ohio State University junior is accomplishing his goal of pitching for strikes.

“I want to fill up the zone,” says Burhenn, a right-hander at the top of the Buckeyes starting rotation. “Walks kind of bug me a little bit.”

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder with the low three-quarter arm slot wants to establish command with his fastball.

“All my other pitches play off of it,” says Burhenn, who sports a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. “I pitch to contact and trust my stuff to get those outs.”

Burhenn, an Indianapolis native, is 2-1 with a 4.15 earned run average as Ohio State (13-9) heads into a Big Ten Conference series April 16-18 at Maryland. 

In six appearances (all starts), he has 36 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 2/3 innings. The opposition is hitting .258 against him.

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has given Burhenn the baseball 25 times — all as a starter— since the hurler began his college career in 2019.

“Coach Beals tells me to go out there and compete and to trust the process and the work I’ve put in since freshman year,” says Burhenn, who is 10-7 with a 4.59 ERA with 134 K’s and 48 base-on-balls in 147 career innings with close to two-thirds of his more than 2,300 pitches going for strikes. “He puts trust in me. 

“I take my work very seriously and I think he sees that.”

Burhenn credits OSU pitching coach Dan DeLucia and director of pitching development Brad Goldberg for their roles in making him a better moundsman.

“They’ve helped me to understand and have a purpose in each pitch I throw,” says Burhenn. “I don’t go out there (to the mound) with no game plan.

“I mix pitches and pound the zone.”

While many summer college leagues shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burhenn spent eight weeks learning about pitch design and developing his craft at FullReps Training Center in Camp Hill, Pa., near Harrisburg. His Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft advisor Sam Samardzija Jr. (brother of big league pitcher Jeff Samardzija) is good friends with FullReps owner Scott Swanson.

Burhenn, 21, hopes to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, but if that doesn’t happen he expects to pitch somewhere this summer though he does not yet know where. 

He says he was thinking about going to the Cape Cod League, but did not play in the summer after his OSU freshman season because he logged 91 innings — nearly twice what he pitched as a senior at Lawrence North High School in the spring of 2018.

Burhenn played three varsity seasons for the Richard Winzenread-coached Wildcats.

“I started seriously pitching with him,” says Burhenn of the veteran coach. “I started getting pitching tips as a freshman. He’s developed me and helped me understand things.

“I’m very grateful for everything he’s taught me.”

Seeing some varsity mound action as a sophomore, Burhenn also played center field his last two high school seasons. The two-time all-Marion County honoree posted a 1.76 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a junior and went 6-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings as a senior while earning Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state distinction. He’s been a pitcher-only at Ohio State.

“I kind of miss swinging the bat,” says Burhenn. “I know it’s extremely hard at this level.”

Growing up in Lawrence Township, Burhenn’s first organized baseball came at Skiles Test Little League. He played travel ball for the Indiana Bandits and Indiana Mustangs.

Mike Farrell coached him with the Mustangs.

“My presence on the mound, I learned that from him,” says Burhenn. “He taught me to be a better player and better teammate. He’s very blunt and straight to the point, which I liked about him. 

“He’s very honest. I really appreciate Mike.”

In a 2021 regular season with only Big Ten games and no conference tournament, Burhenn has started against Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. He racked up a season-high nine strikeouts and seven innings pitched March 26 against Iowa.

Attendance at Big Ten games has been restricted to family members and those on the guest list.

“It’s enjoyable when your family and loved ones are there at least,” says Burhenn.

He’s also relished the opportunity to compete against players he knows from high school or travel ball.

“It’s fun playing against familiar faces in an elite conference,” says Burhenn, who saw many of those in the Indiana lineup and counts Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate and junior right-hander Bayden Root as an OSU teammate.

On the academic side of things, Burhenn is majoring in Operations Management as part of Ohio State’s Max M. Fisher College of Business.

Dave and Heather Burhenn have two sons — Garrett and Nick. The latter is a soccer player and Lawrence North junior.

Garrett Burhenn (Ohio State University Photo)