Concord’s Blake officially named New York Yankees pitching coach

  • Concord native Matt Blake Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2019 6:45:42 PM

Some time this spring, a New York pitcher will be struggling at Yankee Stadium. The person who will climb from the home dugout, wearing pinstripes, and walk to the mound to settle things down for the most iconic franchise in baseball will be Concord’s Matt Blake.

The 34-year-old Blake was officially announced as the Yankees new pitching coach on Thursday. When Blake takes those walks to Major League mounds next season, he’ll be taking a piece of Concord with him.

“I had people to look up to in Concord who were good baseball people and playing the game the right way and supporting the community,” Blake said. “So, this was something that was fostered in Concord, for sure.”

Before joining the Yankees, Blake had been working with the Cleveland Indians since 2016, when the organization hired him as a low-level pitching coordinator. Using progressive ideas and a relentless work ethic, Blake quickly worked his way up to assistant director of player development for Cleveland and had recently been promoted to pitching director before the Yankees made him the youngest pitching coach in MLB history.

“It’s crazy, unbelievable,” said Scott Owen, Blake’s baseball coach at Concord High. “He’s a brilliant, brilliant kid. I’m over-the-moon happy for him.”

Blake has helped out at some Crimson Tide winter workouts, and he offers advice when Concord pitching coach Josh Jarnot sends him video of Tide pitchers. Owen said Blake can instantly pick up details it might otherwise take hours or days to notice.

“I can’t say enough about how he’s helped us and given back,” Owen said.

Local roots

Like most baseball-loving kids in the area, Blake got his start playing Little League and Babe Ruth in Concord.

“Those formative years of Little League and Babe Ruth with my dad (Carroll) and Lenny Parker coaching me were really important,” Blake said. “The Parker family was instrumental in nurturing my interest in the game and how to play it the right way. They’ve been lifelong friends as a result.”

During his high school summers, Blake played for the Granite State Big Blue Babe Ruth program with coach Sean Wheeler.

“Matt was part of my family’s life when he was playing for me,” Wheeler said. “I was just telling my oldest son that Matt was the first player to come visit him at the hospital when he was born. We had just won a semifinal with Big Blue and then Matt showed up with his dad the day Griff was born.

“He was always outgoing, always polite. He would address my wife when she was around, stuff that not all 17-, 18-year-old kids do. He was just a pleasure to have around.”

Well, most of the time he was a pleasure.

“Matt always wanted to know the why. He wanted constant feedback,” Wheeler said. “I was thinking back to his 18-year-old year with Big Blue when he seemed like another coach on the field. When you went to the mound when he was struggling, which was rare, he knew what the answer was before you got out there. He was very involved in discussions, he always asked the coaching staff what was going on, and he had his own opinion on just about everything. Sometimes welcome, sometimes not.”

Like Owen, Wheeler is still having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that one of his former players now holds one of the most prestigious jobs in the sport.

“I texted him congratulations the other day when I heard the news, and he said thanks and asked how the family was,” Wheeler said. “And I was like, ‘I just texted with the New York Yankees pitching coach.’ I’m just blown away by it.”

Crossroads

Blake pitched collegiately at Holy Cross. The lefty didn’t have much velocity, but he made up for it with guile, control and a variety of spins, speeds and arm angles. He brought that mix of junk back to his hometown for two summers when he played for the now-defunct Concord Quarry Dogs of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

That could have been the end of the baseball road for Blake. He graduated from Holy Cross in the spring of 2007 and stepped away from the game. But the next spring, he and his dad decided to coach a Concord Babe Ruth team together.

“That was my first exposure to coaching players and I really enjoyed the process of helping them learn about the game and helping them learn their craft,” Blake said. “Then I coached the (Babe Ruth) All-Star team that summer and that led into starting to give individual lessons.”

Giving those lessons set Blake on the path that eventually led him to the Yankees. Working with local kids at Concord Sports Center, Blake began developing his own progressive philosophies about pitching. He then expanded his business and started offering lessons out of Cressey Performance Sports in Hudson, Mass., a place that aligned with Blake’s beliefs about the importance of anatomy, kinesiology and video technology when it comes to maximizing pitchers’ potential and efficiency while minimizing the risk of injury.

“Matt was very progressive with video analysis,’’ Eric Cressey, owner of CPS, told Don Martin of the New York Post last week. “He was ahead of the curve. He picked it all up from scratch.”

Leap of faith rewarded

In 2009, Blake left his sales job at Concord Litho and made baseball his full-time gig. He kept growing his player development business at Cressey, took a job as the pitching coach at Lincoln-Sudbury (Mass.) High School, became an associate scout for the Yankees and coached for the New England Ruffnecks (a college development baseball program based in Needham, Mass.) and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League.

During that time, Blake further developed a reputation as a hard worker and an innovative thinker, and that reputation attracted the interest of the Indians. Cleveland was one of the first organizations to embrace the kind of progressive philosophies Blake and others were developing, so working for the Indians made sense to Blake.

What didn’t make sense was getting a call from the Yankees a few weeks ago, even though most MLB teams are now embracing these new methods of evaluating and coaching players.

“It was a little bit of a shock, just given the nature of the Yankees and my background, and I just wasn’t sure if it was serious,” Blake said.

So before flying to New York, Blake called Yankees GM Brian Cashman. After that conversation, Blake realized, “what they were thinking about for the (pitching coach) position aligned with my skill set and the things I was doing in Cleveland, so at least they were thinking in the right direction of things.”

After moving on from longtime pitching coach Larry Rothschild, New York’s baseball boss felt like Blake was the right guy to step in.

“I’m charged with making tough decisions over time and, obviously, as we move forward I felt I wanted to gravitate to somebody that had a little bit more in-depth knowledge of some of the newer technology out there,” Cashman told the Associated Press.

Knowing the Yankees were serious, Blake traveled to New York and went through a full-day interview that included a talk with manager Aaron Boone, “and it seemed like we had a pretty strong connection and similar ideas about clubhouse culture, being player-centric and what a winning environment would look like,” Blake said.

Most New England baseball fans would cringe at the thought of one of their own helping the Yankees create, “a winning environment.” But for those who know Blake, and maybe even some who don’t, rooting against the Yankees just got complicated.

“He’s going to public enemy number one. I told him, ‘Listen, I think the Yankees still suck, but I’m happy for you,’ ” Owen said with a laugh. “And he told me, ‘I wouldn’t expect anything less from you coach.’ And I did tell him to ask Boone if he needed a new first base coach, we could talk.”

Owen isn’t the only one with newly conflicted loyalties.

“All of a sudden I’ve got to kind of root for the Yankees a little bit,” Wheeler said. “Except against the Red Sox, of course.”

 (Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)



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