Baseball Chat with Matt: Alumni Interview with Matt Blake '07
By Robby and Tommy Johnson | May 5, 2022
In this interview, we spoke to Matt Blake, the pitching coach for the New York Yankees. We discussed everything from his days at Holy Cross to his experiences as a member of the Yankees coaching staff.
Briefly tell us about your Pre-Holy Cross days and how you fell in love with the game of baseball. What were some of your experiences as a member of the Holy Cross baseball team that you would like to share with us?
I grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, and my dad coached me throughout my childhood, so it was great to share this passion with him. My love for the game only got stronger as I got older, and I played baseball at Concord High School. When I was going through my college search, Holy Cross stuck out to me because I liked the balance of academics and playing in the Patriot League. One of my favorite moments on the Holy Cross baseball team came when we beat a really talented Bowling Green team at the beginning of conference play. My teammate and I both pitched great games, and it was an all-around team win. Also, Fitton Field was undergoing renovations during my freshman year, so that was crazy being homeless for that season. It was great to build so many relationships with my teammates and build my baseball knowledge throughout my Holy Cross career.
Besides baseball, what did you love most about your time at Holy Cross? Why did you choose this college for your education?
I went to Concord High School, which had a small population, so I was looking for a college with a tight-knit community. I always liked having close relationships with all my professors and knowing everybody in the community. Holy Cross’ campus is also beautiful, so that weighed into my decision. I loved the campus the moment I stepped foot on it, and I grew to appreciate the Jesuit mission and commitment to serving others.
I understand you were a Psychology and Philosophy major. Do you feel these areas of study help you in the majors when you go to the mound to talk to pitchers under duress or when you work with pitchers 1-on-1 before and after games?
When applying my psychology major, I work hard to build a strong rapport with the pitchers on and off the field and better understand how they operate in every situation. On the mound, a pitching coach only has 30 seconds to gauge the signals that a pitcher is showing in a stressful situation so that close relationship in both forums puts me in the best position to regain their focus. As a pitcher, you can’t perseverate about the past mistakes you make, so regaining their focus enables them to move forward and control what is in front of them. Each player reacts differently to adversity, so it is my job to craft a strategy that fits the player’s temperament, whether I need to motivate them to tone them down. With Philosophy, I have learned to think from the first principles mindset: what do you know to be true, and then build back from there. You keep digging until you get the ground truth. Using this thought structure has helped me when working with pitchers, and it allows me to be more forward with ideas as I’m helping them understand the body’s movements.
What was it like working with the Yankees during the pandemic, especially it being your first year with the organization?
It was a dream scenario for me to be working for a Major League ballclub like the Yankees. While it was nice to spend more time with my family, it was strange to be at home more often. Initially, it was odd showing up to the ballpark with no fans because the fans are a major factor in any baseball environment. Starting the season with only 60 games added an additional wrinkle to the 2020 season. Overall, these modifications helped me because there were fewer variables to account for, setting the stage for the 2021 season when things were shifting closer to normalcy.
Tell us about your time as a pitching coach for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape League. How did that experience prepare you for your role with the Yankees today?
I was at a point in my life where I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone. Up until this point, I was in a controlled environment working at Cressey Sports Performance for nearly five years, so I was trying to change things up a bit. The Cape Cod League presented me with the opportunity to coach high-level players in a competitive atmosphere, so I took the opportunity to be the pitching coach for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox to prove to myself I could do it. I loved everything about this experience as it was the perfect baseball environment. The weather was great, and I enjoyed working on developing every pitcher’s skills. I got out of my comfort zone, and I reaped the benefits, enabling me to explore other opportunities and have the confidence to pursue anything.
With your hire and Dillon Lawson being hired as the Yankees hitting coach, we’re seeing this team transition into a more analytical and technological mode, so tell us what this transition was like for the coaching staff, the players, and the rest of the MLB as a whole.
The game has evolved significantly over the past few seasons because we now see great educators moving up the ranks in the baseball industry, deviating from the general trend throughout baseball history of managers and assistant coaches playing in the MLB or other professional leagues. As we see the game transitioning to more analytical and technological tactics, other people who have not advanced as far as playing the game are taking on major roles in the organizations because they have kept up with the evolution of analytics. Baseball’s close relationship with technology has given people jobs such as trainers to maximize a player’s strength, flexibility, and athleticism. Also, other people operate technologies that provide advanced feedback for the players in real-time to use in future games.
What jobs and skills do you think will become very important for those aspiring to be a part of the baseball analytics world (and why they will be important)?
I believe that people who aspire to work in the analytic era of baseball could benefit by developing a foundation in coding, video editing, and technical programming to become successful. Being able to either build strong expertise in one or multiple fields and tie things together is crucial. I think self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion is wrong for people to do, but self-promotion through the sharing of content and creating a portfolio of one’s work could be extremely valuable. This will continue to demonstrate one’s continued self-development and educational journey of growth.
What is your advice to Holy Cross students working to have a career in sports, whether it be on the field or within sports media and communications?
The best advice I could give Holy Cross students is to be curious, keep exploring, learn new information, and apply that information to anything you are doing. The first major step is to not just learn but learn to apply. Therefore, finding internships and other career opportunities is crucial because you can apply what you learned by putting your new skills to good use. Working at Cressey Sports Performance helped me use what I learned about a pitcher’s mechanics and delivery and apply it by helping other pitchers perform those correct movements. The second major step is to grow your network. When searching for internships, shake as many hands as you can and build relationships with them. When you’re growing your network, don’t be worried about whether you’ll be able to return the favor, don’t be afraid to ask for help, put yourself out there, and show that you’re willing to learn and work hard. Holy Cross has a strong family environment as alumni are always willing to help. Lastly, it would be beneficial for them to become technical experts by learning program languages, video editing, posting blogs, or creating YouTube videos. Posting blogs or YouTube videos will also allow viewers to give you feedback on your content, and you will be able to critique yourself by rereading or rewatching your work. When I worked for Cressey Sports Performance, I would post blogs about any pitching information, so I gained the ability to use any technological platform. If you amplify these skills and understand how to use and interpret data, you will build your brand and be very valuable in this industry. Holy Cross teaches you how to think, and you can acquire those technical skills once you have that base.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of baseball and sports?
In my free time, I love to be outside, and a lot of those activities involve our family’s 75 lb golden labradoodle, so we spend a lot of time at the dog park. Also, I love to walk around and explore New York City. My lifestyle is definitely different in New York City than with the Guardians because my wife and I spent a lot of time doing projects around the house in Cleveland. Since we now live in an apartment, many of those activities we used to do are not needed anymore, but they made for great memories despite it being more work.
We know that as baseball players, we all have certain routines or superstitions that drive us to play the best we can possibly play day in and day out. What were yours growing up as an athlete, and do you still have any today?
I have never been superstitious during my playing or coaching careers, and I have never cared whether I put my left sock on first or if I ate my lucky meal before a game because I have always been routine-oriented. I always wake up, make myself a cup of coffee, walk my dog, and read the newspaper. My routine allows me to be flexible, but still have control over my day because superstitions cause you to become rigid in your daily actions. One pitcher I worked with within the Cleveland Guardians organization that modeled this consistency was Corey Kluber. You know that he would be at a specific place during a certain time slot doing something to get him ready for game time. At 3 pm, he would be in the weight room working on something; at 3:30, he would be in the training room; and he is also doing something else at 4 pm. When other pitchers learned about his routine, I stressed that it was not about being rigid with your schedule because it is about disciplining yourself to consistently do the little things that elevate your game and making it a routine. Kluber's preparation is the consistency we should implement into every action that we take in our lives.
The Yankees are currently 17-6 this season, and Matt Blake’s pitching staff boasts a 2.69 ERA, which ranks 2nd in the MLB.
Interview coordinated by Robert Posillico
Additional contributers: Julia Posillico & Rudy Antonios