Sometimes it happens in life where, when thinking about your past athletic pursuits, you achieve a moment of wistful remembrance. It’s like the scene in Napoleon Dynamite where Uncle Rico regales Kip with the story of how if the coach would’ve put him in at quarterback his team would have won it all in ’82:
How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?… Yeah… Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.
Yep, the stories get better, the tales taller and the glory is, or would have been, ever lasting. Uncle Rico would have gone pro.
I, on the other hand, would not have gone anywhere different if I had gotten a hit against Jeff Samardzija in high school. Yes, that Jeff Samardzija, the one who will be in uniform for the Cubs today after Kerry Wood was put on the disabled list.
This would have been 2003, Samardzija’s senior year at Valparaiso High School in Northwest Indiana.
At the time I didn’t even know who he was — I had no idea he was going to Notre Dame on a football scholarship as a wide receiver. I just knew, after he walked during the game and trotted down to my position at first base, that he was extremely tall and goofy looking. I thought all great athletes looked like that, and I clearly didn’t fit the bill. Well, I wasn’t tall anyway.
Sometime during the middle of the game Samardzija hit a mammoth home run off one of our less-than-good pitchers. We clearly weren’t going to win facing this manimal. I estimate he hit that ball about 400 feet.
Much to my surprise — I’m pretty sure Valpo was hammering us — Samardzija came in to close the game in the bottom of the seventh. Among those sent up to face him that inning was me, the light-hitting, smooth(er)-fielding first baseman that would eventually be replaced in the lineup that season by a freshman who hit a home run in his first varsity at bat.
In short, I couldn’t hit worth a shit.
After watching Samardzija gas the guy in front of me, I didn’t feel exactly, uh, confident. I don’t recall the specifics of the at bat. I do remember, however, that I went down on strikes. I doubt I even fouled a ball off. The kid was bringing heat. My effort was futile.
I didn’t think a whole lot about it down the road. That is until Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija became the best thing since Tony Rice to Tim Brown as far as Notre Dame fans were concerned. Then I started to resent him.
Now as I sit here he’s in uniform for my favorite baseball team. I’m conflicted. The again, now that he’s a Major Leaguer my Uncle Rico story just got a whole lot better.
So, I suppose it’s not all bad.