When Pat Blair headed to his shortstop position in Wake Forest's final game of the season, he didn't ponder whether it might have been his last time doing so as a Demon Deacon.
The thought might have struck the junior if the 3,000-plus fans in attendance didn't make it too loud for him to even hear himself think.
After losing, 6-3, to Miami in the Atlantic Conference Conference tournament, Blair's flaming-hot collegiate season was finally doused, but the Calvert Hall alum has plenty more baseball to play.
Blair was taken by the Houston Astros with the 729th overall pick in last week's amateur draft. He has until July 13 to decide whether to sign with Houston or return to Wake Forest for his senior year. And in the meantime, he's continuing to make himself a better player as a member of the Baltimore Redbirds of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
As a Redbird, Blair is not playing in front of the thousands of fans he did in college, or the millions across the country who could watch him if he makes it to the majors. On a quiet Saturday night at Carlo Crispino Stadium, he played in front of the loyal Redbirds fan base, all 30 or so of them, who filed into the few rows behind home plate.
That's not including the droves of children who were more interested in chasing foul balls that landed between the handful of cars sprinkled about the parking lot than catching a glimpse of possible future major leaguers.
But don't be fooled.
Playing in the Ripken league gives Blair just what he is looking for: time to reflect on the biggest decision of his life and the opportunity to keep his baseball skills in tune while he decides.
"I think [the Ripken league] is very important," said Blair, who batted .292 for Wake Forest this spring with a team-high 59 runs scored in 57 games. "If you look, there's a lot of guys who have gotten drafted from this league. This league targets younger guys … very good players. This is really where they make the jump from being a freshman into a mature college player."
Blair is one of more than 200 players in the young Ripken league's history to have their names called in the major league draft. Notable Ripken league alums include Orioles minor leaguers Steven Bumbry, L.J. Hoes and Steve Johnson and Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguer Brett Cecil (Maryland).
The wooden bat league, established in 2005, consists of 10 teams in the Baltimore-Washington area. Each team is made up of college players who are 23 years old or younger from all NCAA divisions. The season is 42 games, with a four-team, double-elimination tournament to crown a champion.
While the Redbirds are looking to go to the championship game for the second straight year, Blair, who is batting .364 as a leadoff hitter, might not make it that far. If he decides to sign with Houston, he forfeits his summer league eligibility and must report to the Astros.
Redbirds coach Frank Velleggia, a former Orioles minor leaguer, understands the difficulty of Blair's decision.
"I'd love to see him stay so he can help the team," Velleggia said with a chuckle. "Professional baseball, you know the percentages. It's very tough [to make it to the majors]. I think, for Pat, schooling is very important to him. … That's important to Pat and weighing heavily on him whether he goes back to Wake Forest for his senior year."
Blair will talk the decision over with his family but said he is still just enjoying the excitement of hearing the news of being drafted. It's a sentiment shared by Jack Carey, Blair's best friend, college roommate and teammate at Wake Forest.
"I was actually taking summer classes and following [the draft] on my phone," said Carey, who will also play for the Redbirds when his classes are over. "As soon as I saw that he got drafted I went, 'Ah!' and I left the classroom and I gave him a call. I was very excited for him, and he was obviously very relieved. He said it was a crazy experience."
Carey's father, John, is the president of the Redbirds and the one who initially recruited Blair to join the summer team. He knew it would be easy to get him aboard. After all, the Redbirds' home field is at Calvert Hall, where Blair attended high school. In his high school career, Blair hit at least .450 in each of his last three years and was named The Baltimore Sun's Player of the Year his junior season.
"It really did influence [my decision to join the team]," Blair said. "I knew this was going to be my last summer in collegiate baseball, so it was a big decision. … I've been playing with a lot of my [past] teammates. It's great, I feel comfortable. It's a warm welcoming."
Signing with Houston will steal the speedy infielder away from his teammates, friends and most importantly, family.
But Blair points out that he is about to be "going into the real world," just like everyone else his age.
"There's going to be a little bit of uneasiness [if I sign] because I've always had a support system right close to me," he said. "Whether it's my friends or my family, they have always been five minutes from me. ... The only [concern] is just being away from home."
Blair's friends who watched him play Saturday leaned over the railing to personally congratulate his 3-for-4, two-double performance. In a matter of weeks, he may be receiving those well wishes through long-distance phone calls instead of face to face.
Blair says he's not sure what decision he'll make, but he knows one thing for certain.
"I think I'm ready if I were to sign," he said. "Mentally and physically."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times