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1,800 miles apart, Blair brothers still together

Little brother was just talking big - or so big brother thought. Turns out, little brother sized up his words about right. When Shane Blair declared to older brother Seth Blair before this season that the Rock Falls Rockets would get to state, Seth, a freshman pitcher for Arizona State, thought the motor in Shane's mouth needed a tune-up. "I said, 'You're crazy,' " Seth said Tuesday from Tempe, Ariz. " 'You guys have no chance of going to state.' He said, 'You watch.' " While watching wasn't possible - Seth and the Sun Devils begin super regional play this weekend for the chance to qualify for the College World Series - older brother did follow the plot closely. "I knew they were going to be good," Seth continued. "But to have the season they've had is unbelievable." With arguably the best player in school history gone to the desert, the scenario seemed unlikely at best. Then came the school-record 21 straight victories to start the season. Then came the lineup that produced hits fit for "American Bandstand." Then came Iowa recruit Jarred Hippen, a left-handed Leonardo da Vinci with a baseball in one hand and many of Seth's school records in the other. As the Rock Falls bus bounced home team fresh off its 11-0 state-berth-clinching victory against LaSalle-Peru, Shane Blair could be heard thousands of miles away, by his brother. The two talked for about 25 minutes, but the subject of Seth's supersectional misses - there were three of them in his four years on the varsity baseball team - didn't come up. "I thought about rubbing it in a little bit," said Shane, forever in his big brother's shadow. "But before I could he said he'd kick my butt the next time he came home. "I really didn't feel like I needed to rub it in with him, anyway," Shane continued. "If it was someone else, I probably would have, but I remember how he looked last year after we lost the super." After congratulations were exchanged, Seth changed the subject to Joliet Catholic, the Rockets' opponent in the Class 3A semifinals. More specifically, talk turned to Seth's future teammate at Arizona State, and Shane's immediate enemy come Friday - John Ruettiger. Carrying on the family legacy at JCA that began in the 1970s with his uncle, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger of the movie "Rudy" fame, this Ruettiger has a state football title under his belt and will be on the mound to face the Rockets come Friday. Ruettiger is 9-1 this season and his hitting .488 with 39 RBIs. He is expected to play outfield for the Sun Devils. Ruettiger sent a text message to Seth shortly after his Hilltoppers defeated Chicago Jones 5-1 in the Crestwood Supersectional. "He said, 'We're playing your brother,' " Seth said. "I said, 'Yeah, I heard.' He said it's going to be pretty cool." But the lore - according to one published report, Ruettiger once threw out 11 runners at first base during a Little League game - from center field - won't mean much to Shane and the Rockets. All the questions about his aching shoulder, the inevitable surgery that awaits, littered his thoughts. All the nights Shane spent restless in bed, till 2 a.m., this season, have come to this. "I think we should go in with a chip on our shoulders," Shane said. "I've heard some of their guys were asking who Rock Falls is. They know about me and Jarred, but we have seven other guys who can play." And one guy who's glad he decided he'd keep playing. "Halfway through the season I knew my shoulder was messed up," said Shane, who missed most of last season, his last with his brother, with a wrist injury. "I was like, 'Do I really want to keep playing baseball?' Just thinking that hurt. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't play baseball." Winning all the way to Joliet helped ease the pain, but there still was something missing Monday as the lights dimmed on Brunner Field in Rock Island. Something seemed so close, yet a perfect distance away. "I wish he was here with me," Shane said as he stood soaked in victory. Shane's mind changed a little after talking to big brother, though. "He said, 'It's your time to shine,' " Shane said. "It was kind of like, 'Hey, I wish you were here, but I'm glad you're not.' Does that make sense?" Perfect sense.

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