Rachel Balkovec’s promotion to manager was easy choice for Yankees
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Shortly after the news that Rachel Balkovec had been hired to become the first female manager in the history of affiliate professional baseball, messages poured in. She has heard from players she has worked with as a Yankees minor league hitting coach for the past two years. She heard from Jean Afterman, longtime deputy general manager of the team Balkovec had admired and sought advice.
But the message that most thrilled Balkovec was from Billie Jean King, the former tennis star and activist who fought for equal rights between the sexes. On Sunday night, King wrote in part on Twitter: “Baseball History!
Balkovec’s reaction? “OK, I can die now. My career is over. Billie Jean King congratulated me.
Balkovec, 34, recalled it during a video call with more than 100 reporters on Wednesday, the day after he was officially announced as the 2022 manager of the Tampa Tarpons, the low-class Yankees’ class A affiliate. . Major league teams don’t normally hold press conferences for their minor league managers, but this was a revolutionary hiring and coach.
In 2014, two years after starting an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals as a strength and conditioning coach for one of their affiliates, the Cardinals hired her as a strength and conditioning coordinator. conditioning of the minor leagues, making her the first woman to hold a full-time position in this field in affiliate baseball.
The Yankees first hired her for their farming system in November 2019, making her the first woman hired as a full-time hitting instructor by a big league team. After impressing officials and Yankees players, she will now lead a team.
“The first word that comes to mind in this situation is just gratitude,” Balkovec said before citing the names of some of the people who paved the way for him.
She highlighted the Yankees and their GM Brian Cashman for leading by example with past hires of Kim Ng and Jean Afterman as assistant GMs. She named the Cardinals officials who hired her as a strength and conditioning coach “when there weren’t any women around and it was really the dark ages in that regard.” And she thanked her parents, who loaned her money when she was low and helped her pursue her dreams in a male-dominated, hard-to-break industry.
“My dad and my mom deserve an award,” Balkovec said. “They literally raised three girls to be absolute traitors. And we didn’t know and I literally didn’t know that it wasn’t possible.
During her speech, which lasted nearly an hour, she recounted stories from her journey and spoke of the steps she had taken to continue on her way until she is now found.
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“The prejudices and stereotypes are going to exist forever, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “There will be 11 women in uniform next year.”
She later added, “Just the way people react to me and the way they talk to me, it becomes more normal. It’s pretty obvious and it’s just exciting to see how far we’ve come. certainly have a lot of room to grow. But it’s really exciting. There have been many times in my career where I have felt extremely lonely and literally had no one to call who had been through the same experiences.
The decision to promote Balkovec was an easy one, said Kevin Reese, vice president of player development for the Yankees. He had gathered some of his top lieutenants together to discuss employee roles at different levels of the minor leagues for the coming season. Everyone praised Balkovec, including Dillon Lawson, the Yankees ‘new major league hitting coach who first worked with her in the Houston Astros’ farming system and drew her to the Yankees. two years ago.
“Which is funny,” Reese said, “and I’ve spoken with a number of people like, ‘Hey, was that difficult? Was there a lot of debate? Everyone was on board.
When asked if he could have imagined a female manager, say, 10 years ago, Reese, a former Yankees outfielder, said no.
“I got to work with Jean and some of the people Rachel mentioned before and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been considered before,” he said. “But there weren’t necessarily so many opportunities for people – even men – who didn’t have experience as a player. More and more of these people are coming forward today and showing that they are very valuable. “
When Cashman hired Ng to be his deputy managing director in 1998, he did so, he said, because she was the best person for the job, but he was surprised by the widespread attention that hiring aroused.
“At the time, I remember saying, ‘Well, I hope we can get to a point where it’s no longer newsworthy, it’s just a fluke,’ he said. he said. All these years later, he said, he noticed a similar reaction to the hiring of Balkovec.
Balkovec added, “I have been in baseball for 10 years. So it’s kind of interesting to me that there’s so much attention now.
Cashman said gender equity was not considered as much of a consideration in the past in the baseball industry – “but that doesn’t help matters.” He credited pioneers in and around the sport such as Boston Red Sox executive Elaine Weddington Steward, the first woman hired as an assistant general manager of Major League Baseball, or Ng, now of the Miami Marlins, the first woman hired as general manager.
“There is always someone who emerges who is not afraid, who wants it and who pursues it, and who is strong enough to take it,” he said. “Unfortunately, in some categories it takes longer than others. And sadly, society had failed to recognize the strength and equal power, if not more, that women possess. “
The hiring of Balkovec was historic enough to prompt Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner, to issue a statement of congratulations and wishes. After calling Ng’s hiring as general manager in 2020 a step forward, he said, “I’m happy to see the game continue to make significant progress at various levels.”
Manfred also congratulated Sara Goodrum, the Astros’ new director of player development, and other women working in the sport “who set a positive example for our next generation of fans” and who have proven that baseball is for everyone. Balkovec said it takes this responsibility seriously.
“I don’t think you sign your name on the dotted line to do something like that and then say, ‘Well, I don’t want to be a model,’” she said, later adding: “ People ask me, “Why are you on social media?” I want to be an idea visible to young women. I want to be an idea visible to dads who have daughters. I want to be there. have two jobs.
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