01/20/11 2:30 PM EST
Football star Szczur commits to Cubs
Leaving gridiron behind, outfielder signs deal worth $1.5 million
By Evan Drellich and Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
The Cubs announced on Thursday that Szczur, their 21-year-old fifth-round Draft pick from 2010, has left his football days behind for good with a new contract that guarantees him a reported $1.5 million.
"I love both sports, and if I chose football, it would have been hard to walk away from baseball," said Szczur, an outfielder. "It's hard to walk away from football as well. But the Major Leagues won't let me play football, and I don't think the NFL would let me play in MLB. ...
"This is totally worth it for me. I thought about it."
Szczur, pronounced "Caesar," had dinner with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry earlier this month and made his decision Tuesday after Chicago upped its offer. Szczur signed a day after the Draft in June for $100,000, a deal which included permission to return to Villanova. That contract would have paid him $500,000 had he made a written commitment to baseball before Feb. 10, according to Baseball America.
"We've had the great fortune to get to know Matt the last seven-plus months and are excited by his decision to devote himself completely to baseball and the Cubs," Hendry said. "We've come to know Matt not only as a talented athlete but also as an exceptional person. He had a fantastic pro debut with us last summer, and we look forward to supporting and fostering his continued development as a baseball player."
Szczur's pro baseball career began splendidly, with a 21-game hit streak. He played in 25 games for three of the Cubs' Minor League teams this past season, spending most time with Class A Boise in the Northwest League, and he hit a combined .347 with 10 doubles, a triple, and a .414 on-base percentage.
"I know I became a lot better outfielder, being involved in baseball every day," Szczur said. "I learned how fast I could pick something up. ... The whole organization really believes in me."
Back at school in the fall, Szczur missed most of football season because of a high ankle sprain. A receiver and return specialist, he still returned to dominate in a playoff quarterfinals win, when he contributed five touchdowns -- three rushing, one receiving and one passing -- before Villanova lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Eastern Washington. The lone football event remaining for Szczur this season would have been the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29, which he will forgo.
In the 2009 title game, a 23-21 win over Montana, Szczur notched 270 all-purpose yards and was named Most Outstanding Player.
A native of Cape May, N.J., Szczur has already been to Wrigley Field. He attended a late-season game last year and caught a foul ball.
"My life has been so surreal in the last year," he said. "Winning a national championship. Getting drafted. Coming back and being able to play my senior season. Hopefully being able to graduate soon. And now, hopefully, being a professional athlete in the Major Leagues in the years to come."
Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. MLB.com reporter Adam McCalvy contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.