The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 11, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Blair signs, with family, friends there

By DON McCORMACK - donmac@suite224.net
Sports Editor

— It’s been a whirlwind few days for Zak Blair, the former Jefferson great, who was drafted in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Saturday, about 90 minutes before former Pymatuning Valley great Brandon Easton was taken in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins.

While Easton is still waiting his marching orders from the Twins organization, Blair has no such worries.

The Mercyhurst University graduate signed his professional contract with the Cubs during ceremonies in front of family, friends, teammates and coaches at the university Monday.

Blair, the son of David and Carol Blair of Jefferson, will board an airplane Wednesday morning in Cleveland bound for Mesa, Ariz., the spring-training home of the Cubs.

“I’ll be there for about two weeks and play every day,” the former Falcon said. “They’ll watch and evaluate me and after those couple of weeks, decide where they want to send me and I’ll head wherever that is.”

Monday, though, was just a continuation of what has been a chaotic — though enjoyable — 72-hour period.

“Yeah, I’m pretty exhausted... it’s all setting in, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just trying to relax with some of the people I love and get ready to head out Wednesday morning.”

Many of those people were on hand at Mercyhurst on Monday to watch Blair officially become a professional baseball player.

“It was really special for me,” he said. “My mom and dad, Coach (Scott) Barber, (Mercyhurst) Coach (Joe) Spano, the president and athletic director of the university, they were all there.”

Not to mention, two Erie television stations.

“Yeah, they were there, too,” the ever-humble Blair said with a laugh.

It was also a special moment for Barber, a star player himself in high school at Jefferson and in college at Marietta. Blair is the first player of his to be selected in the draft, the first player from Jefferson to be picked and the first from Ashtabula County since Dan Mozingo of Harbor High School was taken by the Chicago White Sox in 1998.

“It was really a great thing to see,” Barber said. “Coach (Dik) Pavolino, Coach (Mike) Winski and (his son and current Falcon standout) Matt (Barber) all went to be there.

“It was a special moment, no doubt about it. For a coach, it’s pretty much a once-in-a-career kind of moment and for it to be for a young man the caliber of Zak makes it even that much more special.”

For Blair, all of this attention has not changed him.

Conversations with the 23-year-old the past several days have been no different than they were when he was growing up in Jefferson, which is a credit to not only him, but his family, friends and coaches... his inner circle.

“I know I keep saying it, but this is truly a blessing,” he said. “I am so humbled by all of this and very, very thankful to have had so many great people give their time to helping a short kid from Jefferson try and make it.

“It is truly humbling.”



Waiting game

Meanwhile, Easton, the son of Bryan and Debra Easton, is also catching his breath as he waits word from the Twins.

“I’m expecting my package from the Twins to arrive (today),” he said. “I’m sure I will know a lot more once we have a chance to look at everything.”

In the meantime, the former Laker star is realizing the next chapter in his life is about to begin.

“It’s all kind of been very hectic, for sure,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great to have all the stress of the unknown and waiting behind me, though.”

Which paved the way to a trip to Lake Erie on Monday.

“We went out on the boat and got some good fishing in,” he said.

And the catch of the day?

“We caught a couple perch and some walleye,” he said. “It was a good day.”

Just another in what has been a run of them lately for both Brandon Easton and Zak Blair.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.