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Baseball: Samardzija,?Scioscia speak at annual dinner

Michael Bryan | Friday, February 6, 2009

Just two weeks before the start of the season, appearances by former Irish star Jeff Samardzija and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia helped build excitement for the coming year at Notre Dame’s eighth annual Opening Night Dinner Thursday.

The major leaguers addressed a packed crowd in the Joyce Fieldhouse, sharing stories and advice from their playing and coaching careers. Samardzija and Scioscia also addressed the Irish team, ranked No. 27 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.

“I didn’t expect to come back so early,” said Samardzija, who graduated in 2006. “A lot of the guys here I played with, but its good to come back and see them now that they’re leaders of the team.”

Scioscia, who managed the Angels to a World Series title in 2002, is a familiar face in South Bend. His son Matt is a sophomore catcher on the Irish team.

“Collegiate baseball in this country is booming, and Notre Dame is right in the middle of it,” said Scioscia. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch them, and it’s an honor to be asked to come here.”

Samardzija entertained the crowd with stories from his Notre Dame baseball and football career, and also discussed his past season with the Chicago Cubs. When asked about the Cubs’ World Series drought, Samardzija denied any belief in the superstitions surrounding the club.

“I don’t think any of the players think about a curse. Do you believe in curses? I don’t,” Samardzija said. “I’m sure everyone would rather be talking about X’s and O’s than fairytales.”

The former dual-sport star has also recently given back to Notre Dame, establishing a scholarship in the name of his mother, who passed away when Samardzija was in high school. The Debora Samardzija Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to a student who has suffered through the loss of a loved one while continuing to strive towards academic excellence.

Samardzija concluded his speech by making some predictions for the coming year, which included a College World Series berth for the Irish baseball team, a World Series title for the Cubs and a national championship for the Notre Dame football team.

He also parted with some final words for another two-sport Irish star following in his footsteps – sophomore wide receiver and outfielder Golden Tate

“Golden, you might break all my receiving records, and that’s cool. I wish you all the best, but you won’t look as good doing it,” Samardzija said.

Scioscia added advice he learned from his mother before embarking on his professional baseball career.

“She said, ‘Michael, if you want to be a leader, the first person you have to lead is yourself,'” Scioscia said. “You have to remember to carry yourself and lead yourself first.”

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick was also in attendance and made a short speech before introducing Irish coach Dave Schrage.

“I’ve been to a lot of sporting events all over the world – Super Bowls and Olympics,” Swarbrick said. “But my favorite event of them all is the College World Series. And this year I plan on going back with my team.”

Attendees listened to the speakers while enjoying a “ballpark style” dinner, and received season tickets, autographed photos of the speakers and a media guide.

The Irish will start the season on Feb. 20, traveling to Tampa, Fla., to play in the first annual Big East-Big Ten Challenge. Notre Dame’s home opener will be March 17 against Ball State at Frank Eck Stadium.