First female manager in American baseball to become a model | National sports

NEW YORK — Last summer, Futures Game manager 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 more than qualified for a coaching job and it was long overdue for a woman to be a part of the game that puts featured the minor leaguers on MLB All-Star Weekend.

“When she came in, she was immediately ready to get the job done,” the former Yankees and Mets reliever said. “She not only had the breakdown on the other team’s players, but on our team. She was confident. She was bilingual. She was able to communicate with the players.

“She’s so prepared, she’s ready,” Hawkins said. “I’m so happy to see her get her chance.”

Balkovec will have his chance this summer with the Yankees organization to break another glass ceiling. She will be the first woman to lead an affiliate baseball team when she takes charge of the Class A Tampa Tarpons this summer.

It’s another avenue the former college softball catcher will blaze after a decade in professional baseball.

“The prejudices and stereotypes are going to be there forever, but I think we’ve made a ton of progress,” Balkovec said Wednesday. “I mean, there will be 11 women in uniform next year. Looking back on those days, it would have been incomprehensible to understand what the next decade would look like for me and others.

“And I think we have made progress. Not in the numbers, obviously, of 11 women in uniform, but also just the way people react to me and the way they talk to me and it becomes more normal. It’s pretty obvious and it’s just exciting to see the progress we’ve made. We certainly have plenty of room to grow. But it’s really exciting.

Like Hawkins, Balkovec has found that although there is initially some curiosity about him from players at first, they appreciate and respect his work.

“I feel like they respect me. And at the very least, they know I’m passionate, hardworking and I know what I’m talking about,” Balkovec said. is another story. And every coach goes through it.

Balkovec was congratulated on Wednesday by many of the players she has worked with over the years and received words of encouragement from legendary tennis pioneer Billie Jean King and the commissioner of baseball. She sees her job as not only helping to 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 that and then say, well, I don’t want to be a model,” Balkovec said. “I just don’t subscribe to it. People ask why you’re on social media… and it’s like, I want to be a visible idea for young women. I want to be a visible idea for dads who have daughters. I want to be there. And it’s just that I have two jobs and that’s fine.

“I’m pretty sure Jackie Robinson didn’t sign up for her job and then said, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t want to sign autographs,'” Balkovec continued. “It’s part of my job.”

Entering her 11th year in professional baseball, 34-year-old Balkovec has embraced breaking down barriers, which she often talks about on social media. She had already done that when she was named the first full-time hitting coach in an MLB organization in 2019, joining the Yankees in their rookie-level Florida Complex League for the past two seasons.

It was in this role that Balkovec impressed Kevin Reese, who was just promoted to vice president of player development. He pitched the idea to General Manager Brian Cashman who saw the impact Balkovec could have on the organization.

“She is determined, she is strong, she has perseverance. She obviously has 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 put no limits on what his future would entail,” Cashman said. “I think she is ready to go to the end of the world to achieve her goals. And she has demonstrated that by working in Australia and working in the Dominican Republic and in all aspects of the game here in the United States and the Netherlands. … And so he’s someone you won’t deny. She is passionate about our sport and wants to make sure she learns all aspects including other languages ​​to put her in the best position to impact others.

Balkovec’s promotion follows Kim Ng’s appointment as the first female general manager of a men’s professional sport in North America 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 role and appreciate her mentorship to the growing network of women in baseball operations. and player development roles.

“When Kim Ng was hired as general manager of the Marlins ahead of the 2021 season, it was a significant step forward. I am pleased to see the game continue to make significant progress on various levels. Major League Baseball is committed to provide a supportive environment for women and girls to participate in our sport as players, coaches, referees and executives We are proud of Rachel, the Astros’ new Director of Player Development Sara Goodrum and all women of our sport who set a positive example for our next generation of fans and prove, on and off the field, that baseball is a game for all people.”

And Balkovec’s goals are not limited to management. She would like to eventually be at the major league level in the role of GM.

“Right now, it could be something unique. So right now I’m just focusing on being a manager,” Balkovec said. “I don’t really have a timetable for when I leave, but I just know going forward that leadership and the front office are definitely on my mind.”

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Rebecca R. Santistevan