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Ex-Calvert Hall baseball star perseveres in minor leagues

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It would an understatement to say that Calvert Hall graduate Pat Blair's first season in professional baseball did not go well. Playing in rookie Single-A Hudson Valley in the New York Penn League, the infielder missed more than half a season with the farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays because of hamstring and knee injuries.

Oh, and he hit only only .168 in 32 games.

"I was troubled the entire year with injuries," Blair said. "I don't want to make any excuses, but it was tough getting on the field. And it was tough mentally."

This year has gone a lot smoother at the next level in Single-A Bowling Green. Blair is showing the potential that Tampa Bay saw when the Rays drafted him in the 12th round last year out of Wake Forest University.

"I have been pretty consistent," Blair said. "I have been batting .270 to .280 most of the season."

Blair, who is 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, is batting .260 with three home runs, 31 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a .359 on-base percentage in 81 games.

"He is really a manager's dream in that he will do a good job wherever you put him on the field and in the lineup," Bowling Green Manager Michael Johns said. "For a manager, it makes it really easy. He can bat in every spot in the lineup and even lead off. You can plug him in at third, short or second. He can even play first or the outfield."

Blair, 22, has played mostly at second base. His versatility increases his value to the Tampa Bay organization.

"That's something the Rays' organization is huge on," Blair said. "They don't have the money to go out and get big names. They always take the players from within their system. That's great if you are able to play the outfield and all those other positions. I will be able to play five different positions and that gives you playing time."

Blair missed about two weeks last month because of a concussion after getting hit in the head with a pitch. His toughness impressed Johns.

"He got hit in the head with a 96 mph fastball," the manager said. "When he came back, you would have never known it. Most people would be a little gun shy after coming back. He came back and just dug in."

Blair, who was also drafted by Houston in the 24th round after his junior season at Wake Forest, said he's  focused on finishing the season strong so he can get consideration for moving up to high Single-A Port Charlotte next season.

"It hasn't been weighing on my mind, but it's something you think about," Blair said. "They really don't tell you until after spring training where you are going. You are always fighting for a spot. There are a lot of great players in this organization at all positions. As an athlete, you always want a challenge."

Blair started for three years at shortstop at Wake Forest. He won four Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships at Calvert Hall and was named the Baltimore Sun's baseball Player of the Year in 2008.

"He just did everything a little faster than everybody else, running and swinging the bat," Calvert Hall coach Lou Eckerl said. "He had a strong arm and great range. He is just a natural."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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