After spending a 4-hour bus ride trying to figure out what he was going to do during the upcoming 2-day Double-A All-Star break last month, Seth Blair had the decision made for him by the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
On June 22, after a three-game series in Little Rock, Ark., Blair and his Springfield Cardinal teammates were headed home for a little R & R. But after the bus arrived back in Springfield, Mo., his coach called him into his office.
Usually, this means one of two things: moving up the ladder, or sliding back down. In Blair's case, the Rock Falls native was being promoted to Triple-A Memphis.
Such is life in the minor leagues: In less than 12 hours, Blair went from anticipating a 2-day break to taking a red-eye flight to Las Vegas to join the Redbirds on their road trip.
"I'd rather pitch in Triple-A than sit on my butt waiting for 2 days in Double-A," Blair said via phone from Memphis on Wednesday evening. "I've been pretty much living out of a hotel room for the last 3 weeks, but I'm obviously excited for the opportunity, and I'm going to work hard to make the most of it."
In addition to the change of scenery off the diamond, Blair is also getting used to a new view from the field level. After moving up through the Cardinals system as a starting pitcher, Blair moved to the bullpen over his final four appearances in Springfield.
Despite still learning the ins and outs of a relief pitcher's mindset and routine, Blair got the call to move one step closer to – and one step away from – the major leagues.
"Honestly, I was a little surprised at the timing, since I had just made the transition to the bullpen," Blair said of the move. "I'd only thrown four times out of the bullpen in Double-A, and I thought they'd give me a little while to get used to it.
"But now I get to see how my stuff plays at a level with better, more experienced hitters, and learn the process of being an effective reliever against better competition."
The move to the pen was something Blair had anticipated. He was drafted 46th overall in 2010, and has fought through injuries and control issues that have hindered his progress.
"I'm 25 years old now, and some of the younger guys have surpassed me as starters," Blair said. "It's to the point now where I can help the organization out better by not being in a starting role, and I'm completely fine with that. Whatever I have to do to make the majors, whatever gives me the best chance, I'm going to give it my all."
While a younger Blair may have balked about moving out of the rotation, the former three-time SVM player of the year and all-stater at Rock Falls, as well as the 2010 pitcher of the year in the Pac-12, is much more zen about it now.
"I feel like it fits my personality more, just being able to go out and attack with every pitch," Blair said. "The most l'm going to throw is 2 innings, and now I know I don't have to save any bullets.
"As a starter, something that was a struggle for me was just having to throw sometimes instead of pitch, and having lapses in focus because I'm thinking ahead to the next inning. Now, I can go out and attack the zone, which leads to more consistency, which is when good things usually happen."
The biggest part of the formula now isn't his stuff on the mound, but settling into his routine off of it. As a starter, the days between outings are carefully planned and monitored, and when he warmed up before a start, Blair knew he was going to go out and pitch again that day.
But as a reliever, you never know when that call to the pen is going to come, or when that call is going to be for you.
As a guy who's always been better at learning by watching other players more than picking their brains, Blair is finding the adjustment slow, but feels he's making headway.
"It's all new to me, getting out to the field every day at 3:30 and warming up, then not throwing again until several hours later, if at all," Blair said. "I'm just trying to find what works best for me, in terms of preparing to throw and then being ready to go when they need me.
"I never really realized the mindset of the guys in the bullpen before: sit out there for however long, not really locked into what's going on in the game early on, but then really starting to focus in on things as the game goes along. Now, it's just a matter of getting comfortable in that role."
Through it all, Blair's confidence has never wavered. It helps that he's a guy who's all about the process, the little steps that will make the biggest difference down the road. That lack of focus on the big picture has been a blessing when his stuff maybe isn't working as well as he'd like it to.
There's little doubt in Blair's mind that he won't be fazed by the more patient hitters, the smaller strike zone, and the better talent at the Triple-A level.
"I know my stuff is as good as the other guys', and I'm very confident when I can go out and attack and take every opportunity in the mound personally," Blair said. "It's always little tiny adjustments, using the talent I've been blessed with, and not leave anything back. When I make good pitches, I'll get good results, and things will take care of themselves."
Whether that leads to a call-up to the big leagues this season is unclear. But with the Cardinals shuttling pitchers between Triple-A and the major leagues on a regular basis, Blair remains steadfast in his belief in himself and the organization.
And now he knows what role he'll be playing when he finally does get that coveted call to the show.
"I don't know if it will be this year or not, but that stuff will take care of itself," Blair said. "If it's not this year, I'll go into the offseason knowing that I fit into their plans in the bullpen instead of as a starter, and I'll spend the winter working hard and going through the process of preparing myself for that role and being confident and comfortable in it."
Blair by the numbers
2014 Double-A stats: 4-6, 5.70 ERA in 15 games (11 starts), 60 IP, 41 R, 38 ER, 66 H, 39 SO, 38 BB
2014 Triple-A stats: 0-0, 7.71 ERA in 5 games (0 starts), 4 2/3 IP, 8 R, 4 ER, 5 H, 3 SO, 7 BB
Career minor league stats: 14-21, 5.27 ERA in 72 games (60 starts), 295 2/3 IP, 198 R, 173 ER, 318 H, 242 SO, 171 BB
FYI: Made last 4 appearances in Springfield, and all five appearances in Memphis, out of the bullpen.