One of New England’s most recognizable coaches in college baseball, Justin Blood surprised some of the region’s baseball enthusiasts last month when he resigned as head coach at University of Hartford to accept the head coaching role at Keene State College.
Blood returns to his hometown after 10 seasons in Hartford, where he revitalized a team that went 6-43-1 the season prior to his arrival. Blood, who recently joined the New England Baseball Journal Podcast, made the move after Hartford’s Board of Regents voted to begin the multi-year process of transitioning all of the university’s athletic programs from Division 1 to Division 3.
“My memories of this last 5-6 months goes back to the student-athletes at Hartford,” Blood said. “These kids came off a COVID year with all of the struggles. The fall they had this past year was nowhere near a normal fall. Finally, we get the season going, and we’re off to a good start. Then this news breaks.
“For all of the head coaches across the country, we’re sick and tired of delivering bad news because that’s all we’ve been able to do for the last two years. To find myself in a situation where I have to explain more bad news but still encourage them to fight and compete, it was challenging.”
To his credit, Blood made Hartford a destination program for D1 athletes around Connecticut. By his third season, he lifted the Hawks to a second-place finish in the America East Conference, with an overall record of 31-23, and a 16-7 mark in the AEC. In 2016, the Hawks set a school record with 37 wins, and in 2018, Blood’s program won the America East regular season and tournament championships for the first time. Blood was named the 2018 AEC Coach of the Year.
“When I got there, there was a lot of work to be done,” Blood said. “The thing I’m most proud of and something I’ve really felt since moving on in the last couple of weeks is how much people cared. I’m not sure there was much of a care factor about that program. There was a new coach every three or four years. It was tough for alums to connect back when there’s not a coach they can connect with and not a lot of success. Now, whether you graduated in 1970 or 2016, so many people take pride in being Hartford baseball alums. At the end of the day, that’s how a coach is judged.”
Prior to his tenure at Hartford, Blood spent six seasons as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Connecticut, where the Huskies reached the NCAA Super Regionals in 2011 with a record of 45-20-1. While at UConn, he recruited future major leaguers George Springer, Matt Barnes, Scott Oberg and Nick Ahmed.
“That was a huge break for my career,” Blood said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to get lucky. I evaluated those guys and liked their talent and makeup, but I also got lucky in finding the perfect blend of personalities.”
A native of Swanzey, N.H., and a graduate of Monadnock Regional High School, Blood pitched for three years at Franklin Pierce University before being drafted in the ninth round by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. Blood spent three years in the Mariners’ system before joining the staff at Quinnipiac University in 2003 as a volunteer assistant coach. He then returned to Franklin Pierce as an assistant while completing his undergraduate degree in sport and recreation management.
“I get to go back home,” Blood said. “When the Hartford stuff happened and this job opened at the same time, I looked at it like this isn’t real. Again, you need luck. I’ve been extremely lucky in my life.”
Listen to the entire podcast with Justin Blood.
Check out the full episode above, and if you’re not a subscriber you can check out our plans here.
The New England Baseball Journal Podcast is sponsored by: