Lakeland, Fla. ( Associated Press) — Rachel Balkovec signed a few autographs after she drew a good ovation for posing and posing for a photo at home plate.
Then it was time to go to work. The manager of the New York Yankees minor league team had a game to run.
But on this Friday night, the fact that she became the first woman to manage an affiliate of a Major League Baseball team needed even more recognition.
So as she ran from the dugout of the Class A Tampa Tarpons to coach first base before the top of the second inning, the clown broke into a spell at Merchant Stadium.
“Let’s go, Rachel!”
It came from a group of girls as Tarpon played the Lakeland Flying Tigers in the Florida State League.
The Detroit Tigers Foundation – the Lakeland club is an affiliate – donated tickets to female athletes in Polk County schools, and 1,200 were distributed.
Earlier in the day, Balkovec, 34, spoke about his journey to the Yankees campus at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. His parents were present when he spoke to reporters.
“It’s been 10 years working at this point,” she said. “Things have evolved. Then I was openly discriminated against. Some people say not to say it, but it’s a part of what happened, and I think it’s important to say it because it lets you know Shows how much has changed.
“So, the obvious discrimination, that was 2010-ish, and now we’re here 12 years later and I’m sitting here at a news conference as a manager,” she said.
Balkovec and Tarpon made the 40-mile bus journey and arrived at the stadium approximately 90 minutes before game time.
Dressed in Yankees street gray pants and a blue Tarpons jersey and hat, Balkovec signed autographs along the right-field line and next to Tampa’s third-base side dugout as planes from the nearby Sun ‘n’ Fun Aerospace Expo Overhead buzzed.
The crowd cheered him on during the on-field pregame introduction, and a long lineup shook hands with umpires Chris Argueza and Conor McKenna and Flying Tigers manager Andrew Graham during a card exchange and ground rules review.
After posing foursome for the group photo, the Flying Tigers took over the field and history was created.
Balkovec has broken down many obstacles in the way of the situation. She was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first to become a full-time hitting coach in the minors with the Yankees.
The Yankees announced the appointment of him as a minor league manager in January.
Balkovec, a former softball catcher in Creighton and New Mexico, got his first job in professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 as a minor league strength and conditioning coach.
Balkovec joined the Houston Astros in 2016. He was hired as the Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator and later the strength and conditioning coach at Double-A Corpus Christi.
She joined the Yankees organization in 2019 as a minor league hitting coach.
Balkovec, who missed his spring training managerial debut on March 22 after being hit in the face with a batted ball during a drill, arrived 10 minutes early for Friday’s media session.
“Overall I feel really excited,” Balkovec said. “I feel excited because it’s like, thankfully, I’m in the best position to accept this kind of role because I had a lot of these players last year and I know them already.”
“I’m excited for the night because of what’s happening, but also excited for the season because it’s like, These are my people,” she said.
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