Ailene Voisin

Samardzija making friends, pushing baseball overseas

A’s right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who was the subject of my column today in The Bee, has some unusual connections with his new club. Tyrone Willingham, his former football coach at Notre Dame, also coached current A’s pitching coach Curt Young at Central Michigan.

Samardzija, whose Serbian last name is pronounced “Su-MAR-juh,” was an All-America wideout for the Fighting Irish and two-time nominee for the Fred Biletnikoff Award in 2005-06. But, similar to Young, baseball was his first love. It is also a safer sport, though that’s another story.

One other note about Samardzija: He and his brother, Sam, who doubles as his agent, are attempting to grow baseball in Serbia, where their paternal grandparents and several of their uncles were born. They are working with a group based in Fresno that sends equipment and skills information overseas.

“It’s going to take some time,” said the younger Samardzija, noting that soccer, basketball and even tennis dominate the sports market in his ancestors’ homeland, “but hopefully we can introduce the sport, and it will get bigger in time. I haven’t been over there yet, but that’s something I really want to do.”

Sam Samardzija has reached out to one of Vlade Divac’s longtime business partners who is based in Chicago.