CHICAGO | Too many times to count, an athlete receives a big day in his honor or is the subject of a giveaway like the bobblehead in Jeff Samardzija’s body-length image handed out Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
And he flops.
Maybe this is indeed Samardzija's year in an otherwise nightmarish Cubs season. After the first 10,000 fans admitted the ballpark received the bobblehead, the Valparaiso product pitched, hit and ran his bedraggled team to a 5-3 victory against the San Diego Padres, winning over new fans from his old region stomping grounds who were tilting his way anyway.
The sun-splashed late-spring day wasn’t special just for Samardzija, sporting a 5-3 record and 3.09 ERA as the second most effective Cubs starter.
As she filed out of the ballpark with her father, Ally Rekitzke, 12, of Cedar Lake said she will have particular memories of Samardzija’s flowing locks sticking out of his cap on the mound and batting helmet on the basepaths. He was the main impetus of a rare Cubs victory in her first-ever game at Wrigley Field.
“I liked everything about it; it was just a great atmosphere,” said Rekitzke, given the day off by dad because she’s earned extra leisure time as an honors student.
Also rooting for Samardzija was Sherry Robison of Highland, attending with her mother, Carolyn, of Munster. She also is a fan of the pitcher’s hippie-length locks, saying they fashionably “curl up.”
Reikitzke said the bobblehead, featuring more full chin whiskers than the wispy collection on the real Samardzija, will go in a prominent place on her dresser with all her trophies from softball and basketball.
“He’s a great athlete,” said Rekitzke, now counting Samardzija as one of her favorite Cubs.
As a longtime Cubs fan, Christopher Rekitzke is suffering a lot more than his daughter.
“A win, you’ll take it any way you can,” he said. “I was fortunate to see a one-hitter (by Juan Cruz) in my first game. I’m the kind of guy who prefers a great pitching performance than a game where they score 30 runs.”
Count the elder Rekitzke as a mild second-guesser for Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s handling of ex-Notre Damer Samardzija.
“They probably left him in an inning too long, but it worked out,” he said. “That shows the confidence in the bullpen is probably shot.
“The way they keep plugging (different) guys in there, he (Samardzija’s) got to be your only favorite now. Definitely my favorite pitcher, for sure. I thought he’d make it. He’s a good-enough athlete. He always had the talent to do it.”
Ally’s friend, Hannah Williamson of Cedar Lake, also counts Samardzija as a favorite.
“His hit today was amazing,” she said. The bobblehead will go up on her TV stand.
Her dad, Brian Williamson, not only praised Samardzija’s pitching, but also his fielding.
“He made some pretty good plays on the mound,” he said.
Indeed, the Cubs defense, lacking for so long, bailed out their pitcher and his relievers in eking out the victory.