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Image from Rachel's instagram @rachel.balkovec // Visual by Valery Perez

Rachel Balkovec makes history as the first woman hired to manage a professional baseball team

By Riley Stovka, January 21 2022—

When the 2022 baseball season begins, history will be made. Rachel Balkovec, who for the past two seasons has worked as a hitting coach for the New York Yankees, will become the first woman to manage a professional baseball team. Balkovec was hired by the Yankees early last week to manage their Low-A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons. 

This history-making move follows a collection of other glass roof-shattering hires in professional baseball. Last offseason, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng to be the team’s General Manager (GM), making her the first woman to hold that post for any team in baseball history.

In 2020, the San Francisco Giants hired Alyssa Nakken to be the first full-time female on-field coach in Major League Baseball history. A day after the Balkovec hiring was announced, the Toronto Blue Jays hired Jaime Vieira as a minor league hitting coach, making her the first woman the team has hired as a coach at any level. 

All these hires represent a change in baseball — there are more jobs and more opportunities for women in the sport than ever before. But the Balkovec hire is different from the rest. It’s not just a small-time coaching hire or a front-office executive who may get lost in the shuffle — Balkovec gets her team and with that comes greater responsibility and scrutiny. 

Balkovec started her career in baseball as a minor league strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, before becoming the Houston Astros’ Latin American Strength and Conditioning coach. After her stint with the Astros ended, Balkovec pursued a master’s degree in the Netherlands and partook in a fellowship at Driveline Baseball, the data science player development organization based out of Washington. 

The journey to a managerial position has been by no means an easy one for Balkovec, and along the way she has faced a higher level of interview scrutiny than some of her male colleagues. For example, Balkovec admitted to shortening her name to Rae in an attempt to conceal her gender to get more interviews

Admittedly, it’s not much of a shock that the New York Yankees of all teams would give Balkovec this opportunity. After all, under GM Brian Cashman, the Yankees have been known to hire qualified women for several positions. Before Kim Ng was hired as the Marlins’ GM last year, she broke into the sport as the Yankees’ assistant GM in 1998, winning a pair of World Series with the team. 

“There is always a first,” Cashman said after the Balkovec hiring. “There is always someone who emerges who is not afraid, who wants it, that goes after it and is strong enough to take it. Unfortunately, in some categories, it takes longer than others. And, unfortunately, society has failed to recognize the strength and the power — and equal power, if not more power — that women possess.” 

One thing managers or anyone in positions of leadership will struggle with is gaining the respect and admiration of those under them. Balkovec understands that as a woman, that challenge increases tenfold. Balkovec admitted that she has found skepticism from players due to her being a woman but notes that gender is one of a handful of things that separate her from the organization’s young prospects. 

“As a 34-year-old white woman from Nebraska, [I] have to connect with players on their terms. Be it by facetime calling them instead of regular phone calls, playing their favourite music during hitting drills and most importantly, speaking Spanish fluently.” Balkovec knows what she needs to do to develop connections with her young players, she also knows that the attention she will garner will be more than any other minor league manager deserves. 

“It feels a little interesting to me that there’s so much attention now but obviously society’s changed, we’re celebrating women in sports, in general, a lot more than we were in 2012 when I first got in,” said Balkovec.

Baseball has changed. It’s no longer the same game that was founded during the American Civil War. Not only that, but the roles of those within the game have changed as well, particularly that of the on-field manager. The manager doesn’t have to be some grizzled old man with wisdom in abundance. The further baseball has moved from its roots of tradition and history, the more the roles of those in the game have changed. 

Rachel Balkovec represents this change. She represents a new place for women in a game dominated by men. It is a change seen in almost every sport being played in North America. It’s not just a boys club anymore, operated by old friends and drinking buddies. It’s a game where everyone has a place.

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