Rachel Balkovec, Yankees’ New Manager


Many awful things have come out of the past couple of years, the pandemic undoubtedly being one of the first to come to mind. Yet despite all of the turmoil and enough world-changing events to last us for the next century, there has been the occasional sunray breaking through the storm clouds. Finland changed their laws to give all parents equal time for parental leave, the Supreme Court chose to keep DACA in place, animal shelters are emptier than ever- and these are only some of the amazing things that have happened.

Another unexpected change has been an increase in progressiveness in sports. First, there was the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which actually took place in 2021 due to a pandemic-related delay. It marked the first time that transgender athletes have competed in this quadrennial event, which is a major win for the LGBT community. 

And now, in the first month of 2022, Rachel Balkovec has been named the manager of the Tampa Tarpons, a low-a team under the New York Yankees, making her the first female manager in affiliated professional baseball. 

Who is she?

Balkovec started off playing softball at Creighton and New Mexico, two universities. She got her first position in pro ball in 2012 at the age of 25, when she was hired as a strength and conditioning coach by the St. Louis Cardinals, becoming the first woman to hold that full-time position in major-league affiliated baseball. Four years later, she was hired by the Houston Astros as their Latin American strength coordinator, for which she learned Spanish. When she was asked in 2016 what it means to be the first woman in a role, she said,

“What it means to me is it’s an opportunity to empower other people. And not just women, but other people – anybody who’s up against something, anyone who’s been discriminated against, anyone who has a big dream. It’s an opportunity for me to stand as an idea that they can accomplish what they want to do. Making an impact on their lives personally, mentally, emotionally, helping them grow as young men, helping them become more educated and strive for more in life … that’s why I’m doing this business.”

Two years later, she briefly took a leave from baseball to get her second master’s degree from Vrije University in the Netherlands, though she still worked with their national baseball and softball teams as an assistant hitting coach.

In November 2019, the Yankees hired Balkovec as a hitting coach in their minor leagues. Ever the trailblazer, she’s believed to have been the first woman hired to be a full-time hitting coach by a major league team. As she ascended through the Yankees’ ranks, she was given rave reviews. Brian Cashman, a general manager she worked with, said of her, “When I had Kevin Reese and Dillon [Lawson] rave to such a level about her as they did, that was all good enough for me.” 

Balkovec, now 34, was recently announced to be the manager for the upcoming season of the Tampa Tarpons, starting in April 2022. 

Why does it matter?

In the years of her journey through various teams and positions, she faced a lot of resistance, especially at the beginning. On her resume read ‘Rachel Balkovec’ and the likelihood of receiving calls back from teams was low. But when she changed her first name to ‘Rae’ on her resume and applications, she suddenly started receiving calls back. Yet when they heard her voice and realized she was a woman, their interest would drop. In some cases, she was told straight to her face that they wouldn’t hire a woman, for one reason or another. 

Despite her amazing recommendations, her experience, and her skill, she was thoroughly shut down in nearly every case. It’s not difficult to guess why, especially when you consider baseball’s history. For decades, the University of Central Florida has kept sports organizations accountable by releasing a Racial and Gender Report Card annually, an assessment of hiring practices of women and people of color. It is internationally recognized and generally respected. Last year in 2021, the MLB received a score of C for gender hiring. Disappointing but palatable, especially when it’s compared to what they received the year before an F. 

Sports, and specifically the organizations conducting them, have been long-known to be biased. In more recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in their progressiveness, but everyone agrees that there is still a long way to go, especially for women in sports. 

Rachel’s Thoughts 

Balkovec has long made it clear that she does not take her position nor the spotlight being shone on her lightly. She sees it as an opportunity and an honor, and even an advantage. She claims that she’s in a better spot now because of this bias, telling in 2019, “I had to do probably much more than maybe a male counterpart, but I like that because I’m so much more prepared for the things and the challenges that I might encounter.” Clearly, she’s an optimist. 

But further, she doesn’t want people to see her as some hero. She’s made a point to recognize that she is not the first to be sticking her neck out, saying, “I’m not the first woman to have a position in baseball, but I know this is a little different. I’m a product of the women who have come before me in sports. If somebody thinks I’m a trailblazer, great because hopefully, that’s creating an opportunity to think it’s possible for [others].”

The Future 

Hopefully, the coming years will see even more improvements when it comes to recognizing people for their skill and not for their gender, or for any other uncontrollable trait of theirs. But considering all that has been accomplished even in the past decade, it’s looking promising.