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Emma: Jeff Samardzija Was Made For The White Sox

By Chris Emma-

CHICAGO (CBS) On an ordinary day in early January, Jeff Samardzija was walking through the White Sox training facilities at U.S. Cellular Field when it hit him.

A northwest Indiana native and lifelong White Sox fan, Samardzija was in awe of his new environment. He was enamored by the World Series trophy on display in the main corridor and the images of the 2005 team celebrating on double-decker buses along the streets of Chicago.

Now, Samardzija is a part of the White Sox organization he's cherished so long.

"It's still taking me a second to really soak it in and pinch myself and know it's real," Samardzija said at SoxFest this past weekend.

The White Sox are pinching themselves, too.

An offseason dedicated to building a contender saw Samardzija as the South Siders' greatest new prize. He joins 25-year-old ace Chris Sale in forming one of the best one-two pitching punches in all of baseball.

Samardzija is 30 and coming off a career year in 2014 that saw him post a 3.7 WAR rating, more than double any total of one prior season, to go along with a 2.99 ERA. He anchored the Cubs' rotation for half the season, then gave the A's 16 productive starts en route to the playoffs.

What makes Samardzija so well respected around baseball is the way he handles his business.

"I've seen it from the other end of the field," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said. "He's professional, an extreme competitor, very good makeup, can handle his stuff."

Added former White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand, speaking unprovoked about Samardzija: "I've known Jeff for a long time. He plays the game the right way. He does things the right way."

Such a workman-like demeanor is all Samardzija knows. It's how he balanced playing football and baseball at Notre Dame, what helped him manage high expectations as a top prospect and the factor that kept him going as the 2014 Cubs played for 2015.

Samardzija is now bringing that all-business approach to the White Sox.

"They should expect a professional that comes out and does his job every day, regardless of the situation," Samardzija said. "I don't complain, I don't whine. No matter what, I'm taking that ball, I'm going to pitch and they're going to know come the end of the day that this dude went out there and laid it all on the line for his teammates."

Leadership as a catch-all description can be overblown in sports, but it's vital in the 162-game grind of a baseball season. The White Sox were Paul Konerko's team for 16 seasons and a World Series run. His work ethic was constantly on display for the young players until his retirement following last season.

Now, the White Sox have Samardzija to set an example of professionalism for young players like Sale, Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and many more.

"It's just natural to who Jeff is — that's his personality," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "He has that trait."

Hahn has seen that first-hand, even before Samardzija has thrown a pitch in a White Sox uniform. He has one more year at $9.8 million left on his contract and is set for free agency after this season. But Samardzija has no desire to talk contract right now.

"I have such a big responsibility to this team and a big part," Samardzija said. "I can't let anything else get in my way of giving everything I have with this team. No distractions. For me, it's all about doing my job for this team and proving to them who I am and what I'm all about."

Samardzija hopes to bring that business-like approach to the South Side for years to come.

With every interaction at SoxFest — hugs with Robin Ventura and Adam Eaton, selfies with Ron Kittle, even Popshot basketball with fans — it became increasingly clear that this was where he wants to be. Samardzija was born to be a White Sox player.

"I'm home," he said. "It's good to take a deep breath and go from there."

Then, it's back to work. That's all Samardzija knows.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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