Where do you start?
The first-round pick who lost his love for baseball? The father who quit the game altogether for five years while fighting for custody of his son? The YouTube-infused path to giving it another try? A backyard full of wannabe major leaguers who flocked to an Arizona address in search of their 100 mph fastballs? The decision just four weeks ago to completely change how the baseball should be thrown?
Or maybe it's just the current reality that headlines Seth Blair's story.
Whatever the case, in the current mundane and morose world that is all things Red Sox these days, it is the path of this 31-year-old pitcher -- who now sits on the step of the major leagues while pitching at the team's alternate site -- that should offer a round of feel-goods.
"I’m just so grateful," Blair said. "Words can’t really describe it."
Blair was about as good as it gets when it came to college pitching prospects in 2010, having been named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year while attending Arizona State before being taken with the 46th overall selection in the '10 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. But pro ball was a different story, slapping the righty in the face for much of first four years in the minors. The peak? Making it to Triple-A in 2014. The valley? Being released that same year.
Little did he realize but that was just the beginning of this very out-of-the-ordinary tale, beginning with five years away from the sport he had always been identified with.
"Originally I was injured and then during my injury, I had a custody battle that lasted a little longer than I wanted to," Blair explained when asked about the impetus for his hiatus. "For me, family is most important so I wanted to take care of that before I got back to playing again.
"Along the way, I kind of always had that thought process that I may come back. Deep inside for me, I knew that I would come back but a lot of people around me didn’t know if it would actually happen. I had to live my life, get a job and do things like that."
It would take a while.
The custody battle for his young son Beckham (now 6-years-old) along with the simple drifting away from that baseball life made the thought of actually trying to collect a paycheck playing baseball seem more and more foreign. But sporadic appearances in a men's league started the conversation back up. As he would start to tell Beckham, the goal of playing baseball on TV had crept back into his mind.
Next thing he knew the process had kicked into gear. From park leagues, to viral marketing, to some key connections, to a chance to pitch in the minors for the Padres, to these last few months of taking his craft to another level.
"(MLB Network analyst) Harold Reynolds ended up getting involved through my high school coach after seeing the video on the internet. Harold helped me reach out to teams and within three days of Harold reaching out to me, I had a job with the Padres last year. I wasn’t exactly sure I was ready to be playing baseball because I was planning on playing adult league baseball, pitching every two months. Sure enough, I found myself playing and enjoying it. It was fun to compete again. I thought I could do a good job.
"So when I got released in August I kind of had to figure out what I was going to do. I still was going through custody. I ended up getting custody settled around January and then started throwing in February figuring I would probably be going to Indy ball or something for this year. Then the quarantine happened and I had no choice but to do anything but train. I found myself throwing harder than I had ever thrown with different arm angles and loving the game and my backyard becoming a place where all these other players like me wanted to come throw. It has turned into something special. For me, it’s just about the passion I found for baseball again. That’s why I’m really excited to be here."
OK, let's back up just a bit.
While the story was intriguing enough when hearing about the five-year layoff and subsequent comeback, what transpired in that backyard took this whole thing to another level.
At first, Blair simply was intent on using the 2,500 square feet in back of his Scottsdale, Ariz. home as a place he and his son could play some baseball while helping the pitcher fine-tune his delivery. He commissioned a carpenter to build a wooden mound where he would launch baseballs from, aiming at a mat propped up against a giant trampoline. There was a radar gun and Rapsodo machine to help measure his progress while adding information for potentially interested teams.
A post shared by @ backyardbaseballaz on Jul 18, 2020 at 11:20pm PDT
But then something strange happened. He built it, and they came.
Pitchers looking for a place to workout during the COVID-19 hiatus started hearing about the setup, with one right after another flocking to Blair's backyard. There were guys like the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft Danny Hultzen, along with lesser-names just looking for the same kind of chance Blair was chasing. Next thing they knew, the New York Times was stopping by with a reporter and photographer to document a feel-good story during a time not too many were feeling good about much of anything.
"It kind of turned into the place everybody was searching to throw 100 mph," he said. "Luckily, a couple of people did and it built some crazy energy."
He added, "Honestly, the whole thing kind of felt like a surreal experience. The quarantine itself was pretty weird for everybody. For me the way the world was working, it seemed all so negative and I was having this really positive experience so I just got into my own little world and things like that started happening. I was grateful to have my backyard be in the New York Times but really that wasn’t what it was about. The baseball part was what I thought was really awesome. All my friends and the new people I got to meet because they got to see stuff that went on Instagram and the other people I will meet this offseason because of the same stuff, that is the stuff that is cool about all of this."
It paid off in so many ways, including the Red Sox reeling in Blair to participate in their 60-man roster for the 2020 season. But the story hasn't stopped there.
Just to add a little something extra to the entire adventure, four weeks ago Blair decided to start throwing sidearm.
"I have about a month of sidearm throwing in me," he explained. "What happened was I started throwing pretty hard overhand but teams weren’t all the way in on the data that I was producing so I found a different way to sell myself by getting on the mound and seeing how hard I could throw sidearm because it would produce a different set of data. I found myself basically the same speed as I’ve always thrown if not a little bit harder from sidearm. The command was there. My arm didn’t hurt. Now I throw from both angles."
It remains to be seen if Blair gets that chance to pitch on TV, with the reliever trying to impress at McCoy Stadium while his son waits for good news back in Arizona. ("My dream has been to play in the major leagues, so for this opportunity and for me as a dad I feel like I wouldn’t be doing the right thing by turning something like this down just to be there for him. He will see in the end this is all about him," he said.)
Until then, Blair continues to rediscover something he lost what now must seem like a lifetime ago: an actual love for playing baseball.
"I think the place I was at with the Cardinals for four or five years in my mind I didn’t really love the game the way I did as a kid," he said. "I think throughout the time of being off I had to find that to make all the work I was doing worth it. Having a 6-year-old son and finding something you can relate to him about. Passion and competition and all the enjoyable experiences that were brought to me started bringing back the camaraderie of being around other people who love the game and want to be better. I think that the energy of all the people in my backyard propelled me every day because I knew it wasn’t only about me. I knew I had to bring it for other people because they were trying to get where I wanted to be too."
Where he has gotten is becoming one of the best stories of 2020.
One of many triple digits from @sethablair. . Seth isn’t a guy to post about himself. He barely uses any social media. He doesn’t need to prove that he works hard or that he’s “grinding” out here. He just does it - without any recognition or confirmation from other people. He just does it. And then after training? He crushes being a father to his son. He does it all because he loves doing it. . Any ballplayer would be lucky to learn from this guy who has a world of wisdom and experience. . For reference: this guy was throwing 96 in this same backyard before COVID training to make a team. Fast forward a few months with some dice rolling the right away and now he’s out here throwing 100 from 3/4 and sidearm. . Backyard Baseball promotes the fun and love of the game. No fancy facility needed. No fancy gear. Just a mound, a ball, and something to throw in to. And that’s how it always has been.
A post shared by @ backyardbaseballaz on Jul 19, 2020 at 7:34am PDT