Yankees Class A manager Rachel Balkovec: ‘I want to be a visible idea for young women’

There was a dark moment in the winter of 2012, after Rachel Balkovec nearly landed a full-time job in minor league baseball. She had had a good chat and was told she would be hired the next day before hearing anything more. In the weeks that followed, as she searched for answers, she learned the truth: Those in senior management didn’t want a woman, and the other minor league affiliates that wanted to fill positions at the time didn’t either.

So, at her sister’s behest, she changed the name on her stacked resume to “Rae” and watched the interested emails pour in. It worked until it stopped working: She eventually had to pick up the phone anyway, her voice revealing that she wasn’t the man the decision-makers assumed she was.

It’s been a long time – and the name change experiment was short-lived – but when Balkovec Wednesday was announced as the new manager of the Tampa Tarpons, the Yankees’ low league A partner, that period was sharp in her memory. As the first woman to lead an MLB baseball team, she fully understands the responsibility that comes with the term “trailblazer.” What once seemed an impossibility, with her appointment, is now becoming a legitimate avenue for other women in baseball.

“I don’t think you put your name on the dotted line to do something like that and then say, well, I don’t want to be a role model. I just don’t endorse that,” she said in her opening press conference. “I want to be a visible idea for young women. I want to be a visible idea for fathers who have daughters. I want to be out there. I have two jobs and that’s fine… It’s something I take seriously. It’s something that I’m really passionate about and I know the impact.”

Balkovec, 34, originally from Nebraska, was hired by the Yankees as a minor league batting coach in 2019, prior to working with the Cardinals and Astros organizations as a strength and conditioning coach and coordinator. She would also have been the first female batting coach in professional baseball and, along with the Cardinals, was named Appalachian League’s strength coach of the year.

The former Division I softball catcher has master’s degrees in kinesiology and biomechanics and says she uses both to help her players maximize their talents. Balkovec describes herself as a coach who is direct about her standards, honest and sincere, who cares about her players on a personal level (she speaks almost fluent Spanish, a language she learned so she could communicate with Latino athletes).

“There wasn’t much discussion about whether baseball was ready or whether the world was ready,” said Kevin Reese, recently promoted to vice president of player development. “It was just, we’re trying to find the best people and put them in their best positions to make a huge impact here. That was the only question we really asked.”

Reese called the decision a no-brainer, meeting no resistance from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Overall, the Yankees have a storied history of promoting women’s involvement in the sport – Cashman hired two female assistant general managers during his tenure. His first was Kim Ng, in 1998, the current Marlins GM (the first woman to hold the position) and the second was his current second-in-command, Jean Afterman.

Cashman said on Wednesday he hopes such hires will be less noticeable in the future, simply because they are so common. Baseball isn’t quite there yet, though – more than 100 reporters attended the press conference.

“There’s always a scoop,” Cashman said. “There’s always someone who comes forward who isn’t afraid, who wants it, who goes after it and is strong enough to take it. Unfortunately, in some categories it takes longer than others, and unfortunately society had the strength, the power unrecognized, the equal power, if not more power, that women possess.”

Balkovec said that when she first became interested in baseball, she didn’t even realize how difficult the path would be. She didn’t think about gender discrimination until she experienced it in great detail, a waitress job in Phoenix while her resume was consistently overlooked.

She did multiple internships, worked in Latin America, and finally earned a full-time job with the Cardinals in 2014. In her decade in baseball, she faced little resistance from players, most of whom simply care that their coaches know what they are. do, she said.

“The prejudices and stereotypes will last forever, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious and it’s exciting to watch. We definitely have a lot of room to grow. There were times in my career when I felt extremely lonely. I literally had no one to call.”

And while that’s no longer the case — the number of women in uniform is growing slowly — there’s still a lot of work to be done, she said. Still, she wouldn’t take back anything that brought her to this moment.

“I’m glad my path was difficult,” she said. “When people want you to give up, that’s when you should say thank you. I want to thank the people who discriminated against me because it changed me as a person, and as hard as it was, I’m very happy that I experience.”

Rachel Balkovec

Age: 34

Born: Omaha, Nebraska

Played softball at Creighton and the University of New Mexico, holds a BS in exercise science and a master’s degree in kinesiology and biomechanics

Trainee strength and conditioning in the minor league system of the Cardinals, Los Tigres Del Licey in the Dominican Republic, Arizona State University and Chicago White Sox.

2014: Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Cardinals, and in 2016 became the Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Astros

2018: Astros minor league baseball strength and conditioning coach

2019: Apprentice percussion coach for the Dutch national baseball and softball teams and later became a research and development intern at Driveline Baseball, a player development program

2019: Hired by the Yankees as a minor league batting coach

2022: Hired as manager of the Tampa Tarpons, making her the first female manager in professional baseball

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