Anyone who has witnessed Jeff Samardzija perform has seen the elite athlete and fierce competitor. His extraordinary skill and spirit has been well documented on Major League pitching mounds as well as collegiate football fields and baseball diamonds during his time as a pitcher and All-America wide receiver for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
When the White Sox acquired Samardzija from the Oakland A's last December, Sox general manager Rick Hahn knew he got his man.
"This was the guy we wanted, this was the guy that fit for us," said Hahn. "Jeff is one of the elite right-handed pitchers in baseball, and we believe his addition to our roster gives us the potential for a formidable starting rotation. His competitiveness fits well in our clubhouse, on the mound and in our city."
All of that praise for the eight-year Major League veteran and 2014 All-Star certainly has translated well to his first couple of months with the Sox. White Sox Magazine, though, wanted to go deeper and find out the essence of Samardzija, who grew up a Sox fan in Valparaiso, Ind., not far from Old Comiskey Park and U.S Cellular Field. So we spoke to Samardzija -- whose ND teammates nicknamed him "Shark" because of his supposed resemblance to the shark in the movie "Finding Nemo" -- to learn more about his persona.
Here are 29 answers from the horse's -- well, the Shark's -- mouth that will provide an inside look into the real Samardzija. The 29, of course, represents his uniform number. He chose it mainly out of his admiration for Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz when the No. 25 he always wore wasn't available upon his arrival in the Major Leagues.
1. Biggest influences
"I have a brother that's four years older. As long as I can remember I just tailed him and tried to do what he did. On top of that, my father was a big driving force behind me. From a very young age, I feel I had two people, two personalities in my life, that had the same common goals -- being a competitor, never quitting and just having fun doing what we do and enjoying it."
2. Work ethic
"My grandpa came over from overseas in the early 1950s and went to work in the steel mills. He never had a car and took the bus every day to work. It probably wasn't the cleanest or safest work in the world, but he still went five days out of the week and did what he had to do to give his family a chance. My dad quickly followed suit after that and had the same job for 35 years working six to three every day, and he's been doing it since I can remember. The only thing I've ever known is a figure older than me that just puts their shoes and work gloves on every day, goes to work and doesn't complain. Mix that with me being the youngest of the family and always having to fight for everything, you combine those things and it's created what we have today."
3. Growing as an athlete
"It took me a while. I was kind of a slow grower. In high school, I was average height and real skinny. I always had athletic talent and kind of knew then I had something going, but my dad made sure I was humble and realize I wasn't that good. I always had a chip on my shoulder when it came to things like that. I was 6-foot-5 my freshman year in college, then in my sophomore year I put on another 20 pounds and starting growing into my body. My athleticism started coming around and I wasn't that little baby fawn running around out there. For me, it was a gradual thing which I was happy about. It always made me work for things ... to be good and play at the highest level, no matter what talent you had, you still had to work hard and go about it like a job every day."
4. Choosing Notre Dame
"I was all over the country in my sophomore and junior years of high school about where I wanted to go and was real big on going to the West Coast. Then we had a family tragedy. My mother passed away my junior year, and it kind of changed my perception of what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go. I kind of wanted to stay close to home for the family, and that just brought me to the Midwest. I narrowed it down to Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Purdue. The total package of Notre Dame was just too hard to turn down."
5. The Irish experience
"There are a lot of great things about Notre Dame. I chose the place on the basis of not having a professional career in sports, but rather having an understanding that with an education from there I'd always have a great job and be well taken care of with the Notre Dame family. That was why I went there. Everything else after that was just gravy. For me, I'm most thankful for how open they were to letting a young kid succeed no matter what the case was. They supported me in whatever I studied and in playing two sports. There was never a time when the school was bigger than I was, when I had to do what they wanted me to do. They always supported me in pursuing different professions and left all my doors open. The worst thing you can do to a young kid is close doors on them and make them do one thing or another. So they just allowed me to be myself and really figure out what I wanted to do with my life."
6. If not baseball, what would you be doing?
"I've had one mindset my whole life and have had blinders on in terms of what I wanted to do. I enjoy history and traveling. Maybe it would be something of that nature. But I love what I do, including getting to see the nation and all the great cities. I can tell you the truth: I really never thought about doing anything else."
7. Choosing baseball over football
"I'm playing a sport that I love. When it came down to another sport, it won easily. You see where I am today."
8. Differences in the two sports
"Football is one of those sports when you get angry you can take your aggressions out on the field and it's totally legal. In baseball, I've come to learn that it's a little more difficult to get angry and thrive; I've tried to learn to stay composed and stay under control. In football, it's an in-your-face type thing. In baseball, there's a little separation between you and the other team -- 60 feet, six inches -- and it's more about yourself and your own brain, whereas football is more physical and emotions."
9. Attending Sox games as a youngster
"We came to a lot of Sox games and my family bought tickets to sit in that second deck. We have a lot of memories."
10. First Sox game
"I couldn't tell you the date exactly. The Sox were playing the Rangers. They had a few big-name guys on the team, like Rafael Palmeiro and some others. The funny thing that stuck out in my head as a kid that day was to look up at the big screen and see Sammy Sosa hitting for the White Sox. For some reason, that's one thing I remember about the game. I said, 'Who's Sammy Sosa?' He didn't really have any homers at the time. He was [young] and about to be traded to the Cubs. That was cool. I remember that as a kid."
11. Favorite Sox player as a kid
"My favorite Sox player was probably Frank Thomas. I used to try and mimic his home run swing all the time."
12. Wearing the Sox uniform
"To be a part of this is really exciting. It feels like my career has come full circle."
13. Non-baseball favorite athletes
"My dad was a football and hockey fan, so I grew up watching Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick with the Blackhawks. In football, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon of the Bears were my two favorites. Everyone wanted to be Sweetness when I was growing up. Watching highlights of the 1985 Super Bowl is one of my best memories."
14. Best athlete you've competed against
"I would say Reggie Bush [USC running back now in the NFL] in college. He killed us. I have nightmares of that dude cutting through our defense 60 yards for a touchdown. He was impressive."
15. Great time to be a Chicago sports fan
"It's the way it should be. It's a big city. It's a sports city through and through to the heart. Chicago fans deserve winning teams and competitive teams."
16. Best teammate
"There are certain guys that stick out. Coming up for me, Ryan Dempster was a big guy. He took me under his wing, showed me how to work, showed me how to be a professional, how to be a big leaguer. You always need that one guy to show you the ropes."
17. Memorable vacation
"A couple of years ago I went to Africa on a safari. That was pretty impressive. We did the whole Serengeti and then hiked with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. It was a pretty eye-opening experience, for sure."
18. Future vacation plans
"All of old Europe. We can only travel in the winter, so I'm really excited when I'm retired to make my rounds around old Europe and the Mediterranean to see old architecture, old history and paintings. There's something cool about that time. When something has been around 500 to 600 years, there's something special about it."
19. Favorite music
"I'm a big rock guy. I listen to classic rock mostly. I'm big into new age alternative rock as well. I listen to Modest Mouse a lot. Death Cab. There are a lot of alternative rock bands. There's a big showing of that here in Chicago, so there are some good venues to go to."
20. All-time favorite movies
"My all-time favorite movie has got to be a toss up between 'Cool Hand Luke' and 'Jeremiah Johnson,' which has got to be up there. I love being outdoors and that whole movie is great. I love those old flicks when movies were real and acting was important. It wasn't just about the name of the star. […] I like when you have to think and figure things out for yourself, which doesn't happen anymore. Movies nowadays come out and tell you, 'This is the bad guy.' It's dumb-downed, but there are a few great ones every so often."
21. Favorite actor
"I don't really have one, but anything [director] Martin Scorsese does I enjoy watching. 'The Departed' is right up there with me.
22. Favorite TV shows
Right now, I'm big on watching reruns and reruns of the 'The Office' and 'Arrested Development.' "
23. What makes you laugh?
"Sarcasm. I'm a very sarcastic person. I think a lot of times I come across as being serious or maybe a little mean, but most of the time I'm just being a smart aleck. I like quick-witted humor. That quick tongue always gets me going."
24. Funniest Sox teammate
"Probably Matt Albers right now. He's taking the cake. He's quick, witty and a smart aleck -- like me."
25. Good golfer or bad golfer?
"Bad golfer, but I try really hard. I love the sport and I'm trying. I'm getting there. I need more practice."
26. Favorite Chicago restaurant
"It's hard for me not to pick Tavern on Rush. I go there all the time. There's so many good places. Man, it's hard to pick. If I had to pick one steak -- my final meal -- it's probably going to be Tavern."
27. In one word, what would your best friends say about you?
"Competitive, probably. It doesn't matter really what we do. I usually don't turn the flick off. Hopefully they'd say that."
28. Celebrity friends?
"No, I hang out with my buddies from home and my buddies from college. If somebody wants to approach me because they like what I do, that's cool, but mostly I like to keep myself surrounded with the people I know and have known for a long time."
29. Invite any 3 people to dinner
"I'd like to invite my grandpa to dinner. He died when I was 10, and I'd love to hear the family story of where they came from and how hard it was and everything they went through to sacrifice to be here. I'd probably have a comedian come along, somebody like Bill Murray. The guy's priceless and everything that would come out of his mouth would be outstanding. Then you'd have to go way back to somebody smart, that's done it all. Somebody like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, who both have accomplished something pretty special, and find out what drove them. That would be cool to hear."