Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Yanks Balkovec living the ‘American Dream’ with manager role

NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – Rachel Balkovec is aware of the negativity in her social media feed and tries to leave it there. Her sisters see it, too, and can’t help but with some outrageous reactions to her barrier-breaking journey.

“It’s hilarious to me,” Balkovec said. “Because this is the American dream.”

In the clubhouse? He hasn’t seen any of that toxicity in there.

Balkovec was introduced in the Florida State League on Wednesday as manager of the New York Yankees Low A Affiliate. After taking over the Tampa Tarpons, Balkovec would become the first female manager in affiliated baseball history, a 10-year appointment for a former college softball player.

“If you know my story and you have a pulse, I think it’s very hard not to lag behind what’s happening here,” she said.

Nearly a decade after hiding his gender and changing his name to break into baseball, the 34-year-old has broken many obstacles on his way to the title. She was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first woman to become a full-time hitting coach in the minors.

This promotion — a year after former Yankees employee Kim Ng became the first female general manager with the Miami Marlins — is different. Balkovec will run the clubhouse in Tampa, which is charged with overseeing the development of future big leaguers for one of the world’s best-known sports franchises.

“The players I’ve worked with, whether they like me, don’t like me, they like what I’m saying, they don’t like what I’m saying, I feel like they I respect,” she said.

It’s a trust she’s earned through an unusual path—one that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but not just because of her gender.

A former softball catcher in Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec has a master’s degree in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement science from the University of Vrije in the Netherlands. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros since he first entered pro ball in 2012, and also spent time at the data-driven center, Driveline Baseball, which coached several major leaguers Is. He’s an expert in performance science, precisely what the expert team is coveting.

She was at the fore among women in uniformed jobs when the Yankees hired her as a minor league hitting coach in 2019, but she was hardly the only coach without a traditional sports background.

Hitting 95 mph isn’t the same skill as teaching someone else, and as teams shift their focus to the recruiting process to reflect that, it has taken a turn for women like San Francisco Giants chief Balkovec or Alyssa Naken. A route has been made for League coaching staff from 2020.

“There wasn’t a ton of debate over whether baseball was ready or the world was ready,” said Kevin Reese, vice president of baseball operations, who decided to promote Balkovec. Putting them in the best position to make an impact here.”

Introduced under a new title Wednesday after being promoted from senior director of player development, Reese helped hire Balkovec in 2019 and was impressed by his expertise and ability to lead, including with young Latin American players. The Nebraska native taught himself Spanish since becoming Houston’s Latin American strength and conditioning coach in 2016, and some of his most notable work has been with New York’s Spanish-speaking players, including top prospect Jason Dominguez.

General Manager Brian Cashman has had a woman as assistant general manager since Ng was hired in 1998. When she left in 2001, Gene Afterman was hired for the role and has remained there ever since. Balkovec has expressed interest in one day working in the front office and potentially becoming GM himself.

“The sky’s the limit,” Cashman said. “He’s determined. He’s strong. He’s got perseverance.”

He needs it. Louis in 2012, he began applying for baseball jobs with what he knew was a rock-solid resume. And yet, only one team responded.

Her point of contact with that club said that her owners would not let her put a woman in a strength and conditioning role. Even worse, the guy called other teams with vacancies, and they all told him the same thing.

“In that very moment, my naivety level went from 10 to zero,” she said.

One of her sisters suggested changing her name to “Rae Balkovec” on her resume, and the strategy worked, at least over the phone to hiring managers. The Cardinals brought him back in 2014 as a full-time strength and conditioning coordinator.

He’s rarely had issues with players related to their gender – “so little it’s hardly noticeable,” she said. However, being the only woman in that trail-blazing role was lonely.

Now, he believes there will be 11 women on-field jobs at Affiliate Ball next year, and he’s been able to compare the experiences with them. Tennis great Billie Jean King was among those who congratulated her for her Tampa job, and she has developed a network of support that has reinforced her belief that she is up for the role.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Rachel on this historic milestone,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. “As manager of the Tampa Tarpons, she will continue to demonstrate her expertise and leadership across the Yankees organization. We wish Rachel the best of luck in this new capacity and continue to mentor her growing network of women in baseball operations and player development roles. appreciate.

The task ahead of him, however, is the same as that of any other captain – make the most of the players in his clubhouse.

“My goal is really to know the names of the girlfriends, the dogs, the families of all the players,” she said. “My goal is to develop them into young men and young people who are under immense pressure from them. My goal is to support the coaches who are on staff.

“We’re going to talk with them about pitching and hitting, and more nuts and bolts of defense. It’s really just to be a pro, and to facilitate an environment where they can be successful.”

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