Pioneer Balkovec ready to shake up the minors

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NEW YORK, Jan 12 (Reuters) – To understand why Rachel Balkovec matters, you need one thing — “A pulse”.

That’s according to the woman herself, who this week became the first full-time female manager in affiliated baseball, after the New York Yankees promoted her to lead their Low-A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons.

“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,” said Balkovec, who worked as a minor league hitting coach for the Yankees organization. “It’s the American dream.”

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The announcement shattered one of the most stubborn glass ceilings in North American professional sport and capped a lengthy journey past “dark times” in her career, when doors were closed purely because of her gender.

The 34-year-old served as strength and conditioning coach and coordinator for minor league programs within the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals organizations, as well as an apprentice hitting coach for the Netherlands National Baseball and Softball programs.

“Three years ago on this day, I was sleeping on a mattress that I had pulled out of a dumpster in Amsterdam, and four years ago, I was studying physics flashcards on the floor of a bathroom stall … because I wasn’t able to fit in the clubhouse,” she told reporters.

Balkovec, who once changed her name from Rachel to “Rae” on her resume in an attempt to get called in for more interviews, believes there has been progress for women in the sport.

“There were many times in my career when I felt really lonely and I literally didn’t have anyone to call up who had been going through the same experiences,” said Balkovec.

“And now it’s like I’ve got 100 women that are out there in various roles that are (living) similar experiences, and it really just feels incredible to have that type of support from other people who maybe understand your path.”

In November 2020, the Miami Marlins named Kim Ng as general manager, making her the first woman to hold such a position in Major League Baseball, after she had worked as an executive in the league’s Commissioner’s Office for a nearly decade.

“When Kim Ng was hired as the General Manager of the Marlins prior to the 2021 season, it was a meaningful step forward,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

“I am pleased to see the game continue to make important progress at various levels.”

Balkovec, who played collegiate softball at the University of New Mexico, is planning to shake things up.

“One of my passions is creating a really competitive environment sometimes that’s lost in the minor league system,” she said.

“Even though the wins maybe don’t matter as much as the major league level, getting every day to matter and every practice to matter, that’s really what I’m passionate about.”

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Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond

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