Last summer, managing in the Futures Game, LaTroy Hawkins was blown away by Rachel Balkovec’s resume. Looking for coaches for the annual event, the former big league reliever thought she was beyond qualified for a hitting coach job and it was well past time for a woman to be a part of the game that showcases minor leaguers during MLB’s All-Star Weekend.
“When she walked in, she was immediately ready to do the job,” the former Yankees and Mets reliever said. “She not only had the breakdown on the players on the other team, but on our team. She was confident. She was bilingual. She was able to communicate with the players.
“She is so prepared, she is ready,” Hawkins said. “I am so glad to see her get her chance.”
Balkovec will get her chance this summer with the Yankees organization to break another glass ceiling. She will be the first woman to manage a team in affiliated baseball when she takes the helm of the low Class-A Tampa Tarpons this summer.
It’s another trail the former college softball catcher will blaze after a decade in professional baseball.
“Bias and stereotypes are going to be around forever, but I do think we’ve made a ton of progress,” Balkovec said Wednesday. “I mean, there’s gonna be 11 women in uniform next year. Looking back on those days it would have been incomprehensible to understand what the next decade was gonna look like for myself and for others.
“And I do think we’ve made progress. Not in the numbers, obviously, from 11 women in uniform, but also just the way that people react to me and the way that they talk to me and it’s becoming more normal. It’s pretty apparent and it’s just exciting to see how much progress we’ve made. We definitely have a lot of room to grow. But it’s really exciting.”
Like Hawkins, Balkovec has found that while there is initially some curiosity about her from players at first, they appreciate and respect her work.
“I do feel like they respect me. And at the very least they know that I’m passionate, hardworking, and I know what I’m talking about,” Balkovec said. “Whether they like it or not is a different story. And every coach goes through that.”
Balkovec was congratulated Wednesday by many of the players that she has worked with over the years, and received words of encouragement from legendary tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King and the commissioner of baseball. She sees her job not just as helping develop the next Yankee stars, but also following in King’s footsteps and being a role model for girls and women.
“I don’t think you sign your name on the dotted line to do something like this and then say, well, I don’t want to be a role model,” Balkovec said. “I just don’t subscribe to that. People ask why are you on social media and….and it’s like, I want to be a visible idea for young women. I want to be a visible idea for dads that have daughters. I want to be out there. And it’s just I have two jobs and that’s fine.”
“I’m pretty sure Jackie Robinson didn’t sign up for his job and then go ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t want to sign autographs,’” Balkovec continued. “It’s just part of my job.”
Entering her 11th year in professional baseball, Balkovec, 34, has embraced breaking barriers, something she talks about on social media often. She had already done it when she was named the first full-time hitting coach in an MLB organization in 2019, joining the Yankees at their rookie-level Florida Complex League for the last two seasons.
It was in that role that Balkovec impressed Kevin Reese, who was just promoted to Vice President of Player Development. He brought the idea up to GM Brian Cashman who saw the impact Balkovec could have on the organization.
“She’s determined, she’s strong, she’s got perseverance. She’s obviously got a plan where she wants to go, what she wants to do in the present and where she wants to go in the future. And so I would not put any limitations on what her future would entail,” Cashman said. “I think she’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to accomplish her goals. And she has demonstrated that by working in Australia and by working in the Dominican and in all aspects of the game here in the United States and over in the Netherlands. … And so this is someone that will not be denied. She is passionate about our sport and wants to make sure that she learns all aspects, including other languages to put her in the best position to impact others.”
Balkovec’s promotion comes on the heels of Kim Ng being named the first woman general manager in any men’s North American professional sport last year, when she was hired by the Marlins.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Rachel on this historic milestone,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement released by the league. “As manager of the Tampa Tarpons, she will continue to demonstrate her expertise and leadership in the Yankees’ organization. We wish Rachel well in this new capacity and appreciate her mentorship to the growing network of women in baseball operations and player development roles.
“When Kim Ng was hired as the General Manager of the Marlins prior to the 2021 season, it was a meaningful step forward. I am pleased to see the game continue to make important progress at various levels. Major League Baseball is committed to providing a supportive environment for women and girls to pursue our sport as players, coaches, umpires and executives. We are proud of Rachel, new Director of Player Development Sara Goodrum of the Astros and all the women across our sport who are setting a positive example for our next generation of fans and proving, on and off the field, that Baseball is a game for everyone.”
And Balkovec’s sights aren’t just set on managing. She’d eventually like to be at the major league level in the role of GM.
“Right now, it could be something that’s unique. So, right now I’m just focused on being a manager,” Balkovec said. “I don’t really have a timeline for when I would leave but I just know in the future that leadership and the front office is definitely present in my mind.”
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