NEW YORK – Rachel Balkovec is aware of the negativity in her social media feeds and tries to leave it there. Her sisters see it, too, and can't help but pass along certain disparaging reactions to her barrier-breaking journey.
“It's hilarious to me,” Balkovec said. “Because it's the American dream.”
In the clubhouse? She hasn't seen any of that toxicity there.
Balkovec was introduced Wednesday as manager of the New York Yankees' Low A affiliate in the Florida State League. In taking over the Tampa Tarpons, Balkovec will become the first female manager in the history of affiliated baseball, an appointment 10 years in the making for the former college softball player.
“If you know my story and you have a pulse, I think it's pretty hard not to get behind what's going on here,” she said.
Nearly a decade after changing her name on resumes to disguise her gender and break into baseball, the 34-year-old has smashed several barriers. She was the first woman to be a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first to be a full-time hitting coach in the minors.
This promotion is different. Balkovec will run the clubhouse in Tampa, charged with overseeing the development of future big leaguers for one of the most famous sports franchises in the world.
“The players that I've worked with, whether they like me, they don't like me, they like what I'm saying, they don't like what I'm saying, I do feel like they respect me,” she said.
It's a trust she's earned via an unusual route – one that didn't exist 20 years ago, but not just because of her gender. A former softball catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec has a master's degree in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement sciences from Vrije University in the Netherlands. She's an expert in performance science, precisely the expert teams are coveting.
“There wasn't a ton of debate as to whether baseball was ready or the world was ready,” said vice president of baseball operations Kevin Reese, who made the decision to promote Balkovec. “We're trying to find the best people and put them in the best position to have an impact here.”