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Yankees’ Balkovec lives’ American dream ‘with managerial role

NEW YORK (AP) – Rachel Balkovec is aware of the negativity of her social media feeds and tries to leave it at that. His sisters see him too and can’t help but pass on some derogatory reactions to his barrier-breaking journey.

“It’s hilarious for me,” Balkovec said. “Because it’s the American dream.”

In the club house? She didn’t see any of that toxicity there.

Balkovec was introduced Wednesday as the manager of the Low A branch of the New York Yankees in the Florida State League. By taking over the Tampa Tarpons, Balkovec will become the first female manager in the history of affiliate baseball, an appointment in the pipeline for 10 years for the former college softball player.

“If you know my story and you have a pulse, I think it’s pretty hard not to understand what’s going on here,” she said.

Almost a decade after changing the name on her resume to disguise her gender and get into baseball, the 34-year-old has broken down several barriers on her way to that title. She was the first woman to coach full-time strength and conditioning in minor leagues, and then the first to coach full-time underage batting.

This promotion – a year after former Yankees employee Kim Ng became the first female majors general manager with the Miami Marlins – is different. Balkovec will head the Tampa clubhouse, responsible for overseeing the development of future big leagues for one of the world’s most famous sports franchises.

“The players with whom I worked, that they like me, that they don’t like me, that they like what I say, that they don’t like what I say, I have the impression that they respect me. she said.

It’s a confidence she gained through an unusual journey – 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 holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement science from Vrije University in the Netherlands. She has worked in the strength and conditioning arena with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros since her first appearance in professional ball in 2012, and has also spent time at Driveline Baseball, a center based in the USA. data that has trained many major leaguers. She is an expert in performance science, precisely what teams of experts covet.

When the Yankees hired her as a minor league coach in 2019, she was at the forefront of women entering uniformed jobs, but she was hardly the only coach without traditional playing experience.

Reaching 95 mph isn’t the same skill as teaching someone else, and as teams shifted their focus through the hiring process to reflect that, it created a path for women like Balkovec. or Alyssa Nakken, who is part of the San Francisco Giants major. league coaches since 2020.

“There hasn’t been a lot of debate about whether baseball was ready or if the world was ready,” said vice president of baseball operations Kevin Reese, who made the decision to promote Balkovec. “We try to find the best people and put them in the best position to have an impact here. “

Reese, introduced in a new title on Wednesday after being promoted to Senior Director of Player Development, helped hire Balkovec in 2019 and was hugely impressed with her expertise and ability to lead, including with young Latin American players. The Nebraska native learned Spanish after becoming Houston’s Latin American strength and conditioning coach in 2016, and some of her most notable jobs have been with Spanish-speaking players in New York City, including the best prospect Jasson Dominguez.

Managing Director Brian Cashman has had a woman as Deputy Managing Director since Ng was hired in 1998. When she left in 2001, Jean Afterman was appointed to this position and has been there ever since. Balkovec has expressed interest in one day working at the front office and potentially becoming a managing director herself.

“The sky is the limit,” Cashman said. ” She is determined. She is strong. She has perseverance.

She needs it. After taking on her temporary position with St. Louis in 2012, she began applying for baseball jobs with what she knew to be a rock solid resume. And yet, only one team responded.

His point of contact with that club said his bosses would not let him hire a woman in a strength and conditioning role. Worse yet, this person called other teams with vacancies, and they all said the same to him.

“At that exact moment, my level of naivety went from 10 to zero,” she said.

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

She rarely had issues with gamers related to her gender – “so few that it’s hardly worth mentioning,” she said. Being the only woman in this pioneering role, however, was lonely.

Now she thinks there will be 11 women with field jobs in Affiliate Ball next year, and she is able to compare their experiences with them. Great tennis player Billie Jean King was among many who congratulated her on the job in Tampa, and she has developed a network of support that has bolstered her confidence that she is ready 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 within the Yankees organization. We wish Rachel the best of luck in this new role and appreciate her mentoring the growing network of women in baseball operations and player development roles. “

The job that awaits him, however, is the same as that of any other skipper: making 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 as young men and young people who are under enormous pressure on them. My goal is to support the coaches who are part of the staff.

“We’re going to talk more about throwing and hitting nuts and bolts with them, and defense. It’s really just being a supporter and creating an environment where they can be successful.

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Follow Jake Seiner: https://twitter.com/Jake_Seiner

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