Matt Blake’s trajectory to the top of the sport of baseball has been well documented in New England. The Concord, N.H., native and Holy Cross graduate spent two years in sales after his college graduation, thinking his time in baseball might be over.
Less than 15 years later, he’s the pitching coach of the New York Yankees.
“Yeah, I thought there was a chance it was over,” Blake told New England Baseball Journal Podcast host Dan Guttenplan. “When I left Holy Cross, I wanted to take a step away from baseball. I was kind of frustrated with how my college career ended. I thought I had a chance to play professional baseball, but my senior year didn’t go great. I stepped away and didn’t want to play Independent League Baseball. I figured my parents just helped me get through an expensive, private college. I needed to show them I had some level of income-generating skills. Going in and getting a sales job and learning the ropes to create revenue was important.”
Blake worked in sales for two years before meeting Eric Cressey in February of 2009. Cressey encouraged Blake to reach out to Kirk Fredericks, then-baseball coach for Lincoln-Sudbury.
Fredericks offered Blake his first pitching coach position with L-S, a position he held until 2014.
“Kirk offered me a volunteer assistant position,” Blake said. “I wasn’t going to make any money, but it was a breath of fresh air to get back on the field and coach. I started on that path. Kirk introduced me to Steve August with the New England Ruffnecks. I started getting back on the summer circuit.”
Blake eventually became the pitching coordinator for the New England Ruffnecks travel baseball organization as well as a “bird-dog scout” for Matt Hyde and the Yankees. In 2015, Blake made the move to the Cape League and served as the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox pitching coach.
“By 2014 or 2015, Eric (Cressey) and I had more notoriety in the baseball industry,” Blake said. “I spent a lot of time with the Yankees group for the Area Code Games … The Indians approached me to learn more about my skillset.”
The Cleveland Indians hired him as a low-level pitching coordinator. He thrived in the role, developing pitchers like Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale.
“I had Shane Bieber on my Cape League team, so I had intel on who he was,” Blake said. “He had good professionalism. In the 2016 Draft, I was involved in a collaborative way. That’s just the way that Cleveland was. The coordinators and development people collaborated in the draft process. I evaluated pitchers in that group, and Shane fell to a spot where we were comfortable taking him.”
Bieber was only one of many success stories in Cleveland, although certainly the most notable as the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner. In 2020, the Yankees hired Blake as their new pitching coach (replacing Larry Rothschild).
“Absolutely, I thought long and hard about it,” Blake said. “I was in a scenario where I was having success with people I really enjoyed. It was a fulfilling organization, and I was on a nice path with the Indians. I was in the background, and there wasn’t a lot of noise about what I was doing. I wasn’t living and dying every night staring across the field. Then, I was going to be the pitching coach with the Yankees, the bright lights, the New York media and the fan base with expectations. It was two completely different jobs, even though they were both in Major League Baseball.”
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