KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The innings have been logged, the Cactus League starts checked off, the preparation and work complete.
The get-to-know-you time with new teammates is over.
It’s time to get this season started.
“Yeah, let’s do it,’’ right-hander Jeff Samardzija said.
If Chris Sale isn’t around, there’s no one better to do it for the White Sox than Samardzija, even if he is one of the new guys. Samardzija has excelled on Opening Days for that team on the other side of town, and a game such as the one Monday against the defending American League champion Kansas City Royals is one of the reasons the Sox acquired the All-Star during the offseason.
“It’s what we prepared for, it’s what we do all the hard work in the offseason for and it’s time to take a deep breath tonight and get ready for the long stretch of the regular season,” Samardzija, 30, said after the Sox’ workout Sunday at Kauffman Stadium in preparation for their first game of the season (3:10 p.m., CSN, 670-AM).
As a star wide receiver at Notre Dame, Samardzija played in front of packed houses sooner than most baseball players, so he became acclimated to the bright lights sooner than most of his baseball contemporaries. Kauffman Stadium will be buzzing with energy from an AL championship-ring and pennant-raising ceremony for the Royals.
Bring it on, Samardzija said.
“I definitely appreciate a full stadium, that’s for sure,’’ he said. “I enjoy doing [Opening Day]. There’s a little more buzz in the atmosphere, and you just kind of want to use it and stay calm early, but then, as the game goes on, really start feeding into that energy and let it be an aid instead of a hindrance.’’
Manager Robin Ventura found it easy to choose Samardzija as his Opening Day starter when Sale broke his right foot early in camp.
“There’s a little bit of [Jack] McDowell to him when he steps on the mound,’’ Ventura said, comparing Samardzija with his feisty former teammate and Sox ace. “There’s an edge he has that raises everyone else around him up to that level. He brings people with him, which is important for a pitcher. He’s in the games even when he’s not pitching.’’
Samardzija, like everyone else in the Sox’ clubhouse, counted down the days to the opener as spring training dragged on. Energy was in short supply. But they say they’re invigorated when they size up their roster, believing their postseason aspirations are legit.
“Everyone is ready to get this thing going,’’ Samardzija said.
“We have high expectations. We’re really starting to see everyone come together and enjoy playing together, and we’re getting to know what makes each other tick.
“Just the mentality and the feeling in this clubhouse, you feel a lot of confident guys who are ready to do what they’re here to do, and that’s win ballgames. I don’t think there’s anything else on anyone’s mind here.’’
If Samardzija has those nine home runs allowed in spring training on his mind, he’s not saying. The numbers that matter most to him were 18 strikeouts and only two walks.
“As long as I’m pounding the zone with all my stuff, that’s what we want,’’ he said.
All sorts of emotions and distractions could find their way into Samardzija’s day. Kauffman is where he watched the Royals ruin his chance to pitch in the postseason last September. His Sox-fan family, which no doubt would love to see his Sox career last more than one season (he’s a free agent after this season), will be in the big crowd. And former Cubs manager Dale Sveum will be in the Royals’ dugout. He’s their hitting coach.
“With Sveum over there, he knows me pretty well and knows what I like to do,’’ Samardzija said last week. “I expect them to have a good game plan. Hopefully, ours is just a step ahead.’’