NEW YORK – Rachel Balkovec is aware of the negativity of her social media feeds and tries to leave it at that. His sisters see him too and can’t help but pass on some derogatory reactions to his barrier-breaking journey.
“It’s hilarious for me,” Balkovec said. “Because it’s the American dream.”
In the club house? She didn’t see any of that toxicity there.
Balkovec was introduced Wednesday as manager of the New York Yankees’ low-A branch in the Florida State League. By taking over the Tampa Tarpons, Balkovec will become the first female manager in the history of affiliate baseball, an appointment in the pipeline for 10 years for the former college softball player.
“If you know my story and you have a pulse, I think it’s pretty hard not to understand what’s going on here,” she said.
Almost a decade after changing the name on her resume to disguise her gender and get into baseball, the 34-year-old has broken down several barriers on her way to that title. She was the first woman to coach full-time strength and conditioning in minor leagues, and then the first to coach full-time underage batting.
This promotion – a year after former Yankees employee Kim Ng became the first female majors general manager with the Miami Marlins – is different. Balkovec will head the Tampa clubhouse, responsible for overseeing the development of future big leagues for one of the world’s most famous sports franchises.
“The players I’ve worked with, that they love me, they don’t like me, they like what I say, they don’t like what I say, I feel like they respect me, ”she said.
It’s a confidence she gained through an unusual journey – one that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but not just because of her gender.
A former receiver in Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec holds an MA in Kinesiology from LSU and another in Human Movement Sciences from the University of Vrije in the Netherlands. She has worked in strength and conditioning with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros since entering pro ball in 2012, and has also spent time at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven center that has trained from many major leaguers. She’s an expert in performance science, which is what the back-end teams want.
When the Yankees hired her as a minor league coach in 2019, she was at the forefront of women entering uniformed jobs, but she was hardly the only coach without traditional playing experience.
Reaching 95 mph is not the same skill as teaching someone else, and as teams shifted their focus through the hiring process to reflect this, it created a path for women like Balkovec. and Alyssa Nakken, who are part of the San Francisco Giants major. league coaches since 2020.
“There hasn’t been a lot of debate about whether baseball was ready or the world was ready,” said vice president of player development Kevin Reese, who made the decision to promote Balkovec. “We are trying to find the best people and put them in the best position to have an impact here.”
Reese, introduced in a new title on Wednesday after being promoted to Senior Director of Player Development, helped hire Balkovec in 2019 and was hugely impressed with her expertise and ability to lead, including with young Latin American players. The Nebraska native learned Spanish after becoming Houston’s Latin American strength and conditioning coach in 2016, and some of her most notable jobs have been with Spanish-speaking players in New York City, including the best prospect Jasson Dominguez.
Managing Director Brian Cashman has had a woman as Deputy Managing Director since Ng was hired in 1998. When she left in 2001, Jean Afterman was appointed to this position and has been there ever since. Balkovec has expressed interest in one day working at the front office and potentially becoming a managing director herself.
“The sky is the limit,” Cashman said. “She’s determined. She’s strong. She’s got persistence.”
She needs it. After taking on her temporary position with St. Louis in 2012, she began applying for baseball jobs with what she knew to be a rock solid resume. And yet, only one team responded.
His point of contact with that club said his bosses would not let him hire a woman in a strength and conditioning role. Worse yet, this person called other teams with vacancies, and they all said the same to him.
“At that point my level of naivety went from 10 to zero,” she said.
One of her sisters suggested changing her name to “Rae Balkovec” on her resume, and the tactic worked to at least have the hiring managers on the phone. The Cardinals brought her back as a full-time strength and conditioning coordinator in 2014.
She rarely had issues with gamers related to her gender – “so few that it’s hardly worth mentioning,” she said. Being the only woman in this pioneering role, however, was lonely.
Now she thinks there will be 11 women with field jobs in Affiliate Ball next year, and she is able to compare their experiences with them. The great tennis player Billie Jean King was among many who praised her for her work in Tampa, and she has developed a network of support that has built her confidence that she is ready for the role.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Rachel on this historic milestone,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. “As the Manager of the Tampa Tarpons, she will continue to demonstrate her expertise and leadership within the Yankees organization. We wish Rachel the best of luck in this new role and appreciate her mentorship to the growing network of women in operations. baseball and the developmental roles of female players. “
The job that awaits him, however, is the same as that of any other skipper: making the most of the players in his clubhouse.
“My goal is really to know the names of the girlfriends, the dogs, the families of all the players,” she said. “My goal is to develop them as young men and young people who have immense pressure on them. My goal is to support the coaches who are part of the staff.
“We’re going to talk more about throwing and hitting with them, and defense. It’s really just to be a supporter and to create an environment where they can be successful.”