There have been very few days in his life when Seth Blair hasn’t thrown a baseball. That’s why the last 2½ months have been so difficult for the Rock Falls native.
The good news of the promotion to high Class A ball out of spring training in early April was quickly tempered by the bad news of an injury to his pitching hand – and the prospect of sitting out another 3 months before starting his second season in professional baseball.
On April 16, Blair was diagnosed with a enchondroma tumor in a joint of the middle finger of his right hand. The benign tumor, which grew in an empty space where cartilage hadn’t turned to bone, caused microfractures in 40 percent of the joint.
After undergoing surgery the next day to remove the tumor and graft cadaver bone in its place, Blair has been able to do everything he has done his entire athletic life – except pitch.
“I’ve been on the disabled list for 3 months, been running and lifting weights every single day, and I feel like I’m just as good an athlete as I’ve always been,” Blair said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “I just can’t throw a baseball – and unfortunately, that’s the only thing they pay me to do.”
In the days leading up to his first start for the Palm Beach Cardinals in early April, Blair was throwing a bullpen session when he felt pain in his finger. It wasn’t debilitating, so he didn’t think much of it and continued throwing. The next day, as soon as he picked up a baseball, he realized the pain had gotten worse.
He took a couple of days off, but the pain while throwing didn’t abate. A trip to the team doctors resulted in an anti-inflammatory prescription, but the finger still hurt. Finally, X-rays diagnosed the tumor and illuminated the course of action.
“I thought maybe it was a strain, and then I heard the word ‘tumor’ and got a little jolt,” Blair said. “But we did a really good job of taking care of the situation promptly, didn’t waste any time between diagnosis and surgery, and got it done.
“For me, it was just about getting the solution. I didn’t want it to be something that could come back, and even if I sat out and waited, the end result was probably surgery anyway at some point. So I wanted to just fix the problem, and hopefully it will never recur.”
According to medical research, the chance of an enchondroma growing back in the same spot is less than 10 percent.
The rehab hasn’t been hard for Blair physically, but it took its toll mentally.
“It was definitely a struggle at first, especially being taken away from your teammates and removed from the group of guys you want to play with and are friends with,” Blair said. “Then, you’re around other guys in the same situation, some pretty bitter about being injured, and it’s a tough situation.
“But you have to look at the bright side. I’m fortunate enough to be playing baseball for a living, and I’ve worked hard to come back just as healthy as I was before. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I can come back strong.”
If all continues to go well over the next 2 weeks, Blair is scheduled to be cleared by doctors on July 13. He’s been doing everything the doctors have asked so far, and he said he’ll continue to do so no matter how slow they tell him to take it once he’s been cleared to play.
He’ll stay with Palm Beach upon his return, and hopes to get at least 6 weeks of work in before the end of the season. Because of the nature of the injury, he’s confident that it won’t bother him mentally once he comes back.
“It’s been such a freak thing, and there was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “It’s not something I did or bad health or a lack of preparation, it’s just a weird occurrence, and that makes it easier to deal with mentally and emotionally – even if it’s not something I’ve dealt with before.
“It’s been a struggle not being able to compete and do what I love to do, and I’ve definitely got the itch to get back out there again.”
What is an enchondroma tumor?
• A benign bone tumor originating from cartilage and most often involved with the in the miniature long bones of the hands and feet. In Seth Blair’s case, the tumor developed in one of the joints of the middle finger on his right hand, in a place where cartilage had not turned into bone; the tumor filled the empty space. The tumor caused microfractures in the bones of his finger, prompting surgery to remove it and a bone graft from a cadaver to replace it.