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Rock Falls native signs with Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox on Friday signed Rock Falls native Seth Blair to a minor-league contract and added him to the 60-man player pool.

With no minor league baseball being played in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 60-man pools are being used by Major League Baseball teams to add players to their active rosters when needed, with players in the pool working out at minor-league facilities. For Blair and players in the Red Sox’s player pool, that means workouts at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, home of Boston’s Triple-A affiliate.

The Red Sox already were looking for some pitching help with ace Chris Sale out for the season after he had Tommy John surgery in March, and they will take a chance on the 46th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

“I was just ecstatic,” Blair said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. It was a good feeling to be rewarded for an opportunity that I was working hard for.”

Blair has not just been waiting around quietly for a call. He spent his time in quarantine setting up a practice facility in the backyard of his Arizona home, which drew in more than 20 players who were shut out of team facilities, including Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly, Cubs minor-leaguer Danny Hultzen and another former Rock Falls player, Royals starter Jakob Junis.

“I don’t know if I’d be here if it wasn’t for that amount of time I had to train and with the amount of people I was able to do it with,” Blair said. “It was all a big blessing for me as far as having a chance to focus only on baseball.”

His son, Beckham, has a trampoline, so Blair hung a pad from it and started throwing at that. He soon got his hands on a radar gun and was able to build up a pitcher’s mound.

“After a while, [the pad] got a little beat up, so one of my friends who was training at my house bought a golf net so we could throw into that,” Blair said.

Soon, all the grass in the area was torn up, so they installed turf to have some decent footing.

“Other than that, we built a little weight room in our garage,” Blair said. “You don’t need that much. We didn’t need as much as you would think.”

Blair, who was throwing fastballs in the 90s during his days at Rock Falls, said he was hitting 100 on his radar gun at the quarantine camp.

“The data wasn’t good enough, so I started throwing side-arm and I got up to 99 mph,” he said. “So now I’m going to feature overhand and underhand, multiple pitches from both, and just try to go out there and have a lot of fun, be an athlete.”

After a career at Arizona State where he went 23-5 and was named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and earned All-American honors as a junior in 2010, he was drafted by the Cardinals and made his way through their minor-league system with stops in the Quad Cities, Palm Beach, Springfield and Memphis.

Blair was diagnosed with an enchondroma, a benign tumor, in a joint of his middle finger on his pitching hand after experiencing pain while pitching in 2012. He returned to Palm Springs late that season, then pitched in the Arizona Fall League before pitching for Double-A Springfield in 2013 and Triple-A Memphis in 2014. With Memphis in 2014, he pitched in six games and had a 6.35 ERA, allowing five hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Then he was out of baseball, cut by the Cardinals after the season.

But he wanted to work his way back and did so last year, landing with the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Padres’ affiliate in the High-A California League, where he went 2-3 and had a 4.11 ERA in 35 innings, striking out 47.

“I never really stopped training,” he said. “I just wanted to have my life be in order so that when I went to play baseball, I had peace. I finally feel like I’m at that point. I got this opportunity mostly because I want to show my son what I can do. That’s been the driving factor this entire time.”

For his career in the minors, Blair has a 17-25 record with a 5.21 ERA over 3451/3 innings in 101 games, including 62 starts. He has allowed 230 runs (200 earned) and 361 hits with 299 strikeouts and 198 walks.

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