Rachel Balkovec's long baseball journey takes her to another place in history with Yankees
As the first female ever to manage in affiliated professional baseball, Rachel Balkovec welcomes the side occupation as a unique role model.
“I want to be a visible idea for young women,’’ said Balkovec, 34, officially named Wednesday as manager of the New York Yankees Low-A Tampa minor league club. “I want to be a visible idea for dads who have daughters.
“I want to be out there. I have two jobs and that’s fine.’’
The manager's office
In December, Yankees player development director Kevin Reese approached Balkovec about becoming a minor league field manager.
After 10 years in organized baseball, her varied experiences and initiatives, such as learning Spanish to better communicate with Latin players, “This is about her qualifications and her ability to lead,’’ Reese said.
“The toughest part was probably talking her into it and kind of selling her on the opportunity, what it was going to look like.''
“She’s determined, she’s strong, she’s got perseverance (and) a plan,’’ said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “She’s willing to go to the ends of the Earth to accomplish her goals and she’s demonstrated that.’’
Already familiar with many Yankees prospects – including the highly touted Jasson Dominguez – as an organizational hitting instructor (one of the first in MLB history) since November 2019, Balkovec is most passionate about player development.
As a manager, expect “loud music’’ and a “fun, competitive’’ clubhouse environment where the manager is invested fully in her players.
Winning is part of development, but ultimately, it’s about “how we get these guys to compete…getting every day and every practice to matter.’’
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The long road
After playing high-level college softball, Balkovec feels her naivety as a woman pursuing a career in pro baseball might have helped.
With a solid resume of college internships and practical experience, she had to take a Phoenix waitressing job before landing another internship in the Arizona Fall League.
Altering her first name to “Rae’’ on blind resumes netted phone calls, but team executives who called seldom followed up due to her gender.
“I didn’t know what I was up against, and that was great,’’ said Balkovec. “Because I might have stopped.’’
With $14 in her account Balkovec was prepared to intern at Eric Cressey’s Boston-based performance center (he’s now the Yanks’ director of player health and performance) when she was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals as the first full-time female organizational strength and conditioning coordinator in baseball.
Balkovec later served in a similar capacity with the Houston Astros organization.
Balkovec’s baseball journey has taken her to the Dominican Republic, Australia and the Netherlands, where she served in 2018-19 as a hitting coach apprentice for the national baseball program.
At the same time, Balkovec was earning a second master’s degree, in biomechanics.
“I was sleeping on a mattress that I had pulled out of a dumpster in Amsterdam,’’ she said.
A year earlier, “I was studying physics flashcards on the floor of a bathroom stall in the San Antonio Missions women’s restroom because I wasn’t able to fit into the clubhouse.
“If you know yourself and you know where you came from, it doesn’t really matter,’’ Balkovec said of dealing with negativity. “There’s definitely been some dark times in my career that I’ve been able to overcome.’’
Long-term goal: Being a GM
Balkovec has a long-term goal of being the general manager of an MLB club.
“Frankly, I thought scouting was going to be necessary,’’ she said of that aim, along with the on-field experience of evaluating talent.
Balkovec has no personal timetable to fulfill her GM dreams, but “leadership in the front office is definitely present in my mind.’’