Rachel Balkovec had completed two master’s degrees and an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals.
But when she applied to fifteen baseball teams in the Phoenix area, she heard nothing back. The then-waitress and Lululemon worker changed the name on her resume from ‘Rachel’ to ‘Rae.’ In addition, she said she’d been a Division 1 college catcher, casually leaving out the ‘University of New Mexico softball’ portion. She then received a ton of responses. However, once teams heard her voice on the phone, she got offers, but for only woman’s sports. One team even told her it would never hire a woman.
Nearly 10 years later, she has been named the first manager for a minor league baseball team. Balkovec will lead the low-A Tampa Tarpons, an affiliate of the New York Yankees. Balkovec said this move is in line with an organization that has always been progressive. Indeed, New York hired her as a minor league hitting coach in 2020.
The 34-year-old looked back on her journey to get to this position, expressing the loneliness she felt and dire states she persevered through at times. She also shared gratitude for how she and other women are overcoming discrimination to achieve their goals of working in professional baseball.
Balkovec’s Journey as a Woman in Professional Baseball
Balkovec earned that duo of Master’s Degrees in kinesiology and human movement sciences.
Three years ago, she was sleeping on an abandoned mattress she found in Amsterdam.
Four years ago, she was studying physicals in the San Antonio Missions women’s restroom because she wasn’t able to fit into the clubhouse.
Even now, she still faces negativity, which she has mostly heard from her two sisters, but she chooses to focus on knowing her story and power.
She believes there’s something in her journey that everyone can get behind.
History made in baseball!
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 10, 2022
As far as being a role model for younger women, Balkovec said she can’t imagine making it this far and not wanting to be one.
Another recent development in women working in MLB comes through former Yankees employee Kim Ng becoming the first female to be the general manager of a North American major league’s sports team. (Ng became the Miami Marlins GM in November 2020.)
Balkovec’s Relationship with Players
The former Houston Astros strength and conditioning coach said players are curious at first, something she understands. After about five minutes of listening to her speak, that curiosity goes away.
Balkovec grew up in Omaha, Nebraska; she didn’t know any Spanish growing up. She dedicated herself to learning so she could better connect with players.
In return, they see her work ethic, she said. She’s there to help them get better at baseball. Hence, Balkovek has had generally positive relationships with players.
As a manager, she’ll set clear, high standards. If something goes wrong, she communicates directly.
GM Brian Cashman’s Take on Balkovec
The minor league position opened after Eric Chavez left to become a hitting coach for the Mets. Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman chose Balkovec and said there’s no limit to what she can achieve.
“She’s willing to go to the end of the earth to accomplish her goals,” Cashman said.
He’s excited for a day when a woman being hired is no longer newsworthy but is happy that her hiring is receiving coverage in modern times.
The avenue for women coaching baseball used to not exist, but now it does. There’s always a determined pioneer, but it can take time for someone to be able to go out and grab the opportunity.
Cashman sees how young girls will she Balkovec and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’
At the end of the day, Balkovec’s knowledge, strength, perseverance, thoughtfulness and empathy are the reason why Cashman chose her to be a manager. The last thing she brings to the table is being a woman.
The Yankees are all about winning more games than every other team. Balkovec is part of that mission.
Balkovec on Battling Adversity
Cashman said the new manager’s prior struggles help her to motivate people in adversity– an idea Balkovec herself encourages everyone to live by.
When the journey gets hard, that’s when you want to say thank you to the people who discriminate against you. She recommends people realize the struggles will be good for them in the future, even if it doesn’t feel good now.
There were times in her career when she felt very lonely; there was no one to call who had gone through the same experiences.
Nowadays, there are 100 women whom Balkovec can call.