Concord native Blake’s pitching acumen lands him job with Indians

  • Matt Blake Cleveland Indians —Dan Mendlik

  • Matt Blake Cleveland Indians locker

  • A decked-out locker and major-league uniform with his name on it — a dream for hundreds of baseball hopefuls — are a reality for Concord’s Matt Blake, a pitching coordinator with the Cleveland Indians. Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Published: 3/29/2016 11:06:12 PM

He spent his childhood springs and summers on baseball fields. He pitched in high school and college. He left a job in the “real world” to begin his own player development business. But last October when the Cleveland Indians offered Matt Blake a job as a pitching coach – in theory a dream job for a baseball guy like Blake – the Concord native didn’t jump at it.

“I really wrestled with the decision,” Blake said. “I had a really good lifestyle here and I didn’t want to mess that up for the shiny object of pro ball.”

So Blake, 30, turned down the offer. Not with a flat no, he’s too thoughtful for that, but with a long conversation about what didn’t feel right about the position (not enough diversity of responsibilities). Two months later, after some unrelated reshuffling of the Cleveland front office, the Indians came back and offered Blake a different job – pitching coordinator. This time, he accepted.

“This role gives me a little more balance,” Blake said over the phone on Sunday as he was in Arizona helping the Indians make final decisions about where to place players after spring training. “I have some oversight of the philosophy, and insight into the draft analysis and free agent analysis of guys we might be considering in trades and things like that. And then on-field development at different levels, which is key.”

Blake began creating the “really good lifestyle” he hesitated to leave back in 2009 when he took a leap of faith and left his position as a salesman at Concord Litho to become a pitching coach with Lincoln-Sudbury (Mass.) High School. He was already in the process of growing his player development business out of Cressey Performance Sports in Hudson, Mass., and soon joined the New England Ruffnecks (a college development baseball program based in Needham, Mass.). Later he became an associate scout for the New York Yankees.

All of those positions were humming along and in sync when Cleveland first approached Blake back in September. He had gained a reputation as a progressive thinker and coach in the pitching world during his time at Cressey. Blake, like the rest of the CSP team, developed philosophies and individualized training regimens rooted deep in anatomy and kinesiology, and tried to develop positive habits for athletes on and off the field.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other American sport, clings to its traditions and practices, so many MLB organizations wouldn’t want someone like Blake with his new ideas. Cleveland is not one of those organizations. The Indians are known as a progressive club, and Blake made sure to double check that progressive reputation as he was going through interviews.

“That was one of the vetting processes going on,” Blake said. “A lot of the conversations that were happening were to make sure that progressive approach was real and not just lip service, but I think the fact that they were looking for me helped me believe it . . . After talking to people in the front office and seeing the type of culture they’ve created and how progressive they really are and how family-oriented it is in the sense that they’re trying to develop people and give them a place to grow, all helped me make the decision.”

Before leaving for spring training on Feb. 15, Blake made sure all of his clients at CSP had a program to follow and instructors to help them follow it. He’ll return to that business after the MLB season, but for now his focus is on the Indians.

During the last six weeks, Blake has been working with the other pitching coordinator, Ruben Niebla, all of the pitching coaches in the organization and other coaches and executives to help evaluate talent and place pitchers at the proper level. Once those decisions are made, “I’ll sit down and talk to (pitchers) about why they’re at a certain level and what the plan is for them going forward and how we expect them to work and build habits,” Blake said.

Once the season starts, Blake will be based out of his home in Boston, but will be on the road constantly. Since his official title is “low level pitching coordinator,” Blake will make regular visits to Cleveland’s high-A team (Lynchburg Hillcats) in Virginia, the low-A team (Lake County Captains) in Eastlake, Ohio, the short-season A team (Mahoning Valley Scrappers) in Niles, Ohio, and the rookie team in Arizona. Niebla will focus on the AA and AAA teams, but Blake will spend some time there, as well.

“I’ll be bouncing in and out of the different affiliates,” Blake said. “It will almost be like a liaison role between the front office and the coaches and players, making sure that all these goals and ideas that we develop for the athletes and the coaches are being executed, and if not what’s going on and do we need to make an adjustment.”

It may have been difficult for Blake to leave what he had built in New England, but there was an undeniable thrill when he saw his name on the back of a big league uniform after arriving in Arizona. And he got another thrill during one of his first spring training meetings.

“I was sitting in a morning staff meeting with Terry Francona and it’s like, ‘All right, we’re really here,’ ” Blake said. “You don’t want to be a fan boy, but at the same time it’s like, Terry Francona was a legend in Boston when I was growing up, and this is real.”

 

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

 

 




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