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Yankees hitting coach Rachel Balkovec takes the road less traveled

How a woman makes her way to the Yankees through unconventional means.

2021 Sirius XM Futures Game Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Following last week’s article titled “Women, the Yankees, and how we’re going to move into the future,” one of the most discussed issues in the comments went something like this:

“Sure, women can be involved in coaching and management, but it’s pretty much impossible for them to earn the respect necessary to actually get hired into those kinds of roles.”

At first glance, a hurdle such as this might feel like a death blow to the careers of women looking to pursue this line of work. Women have never played at the higher levels of the game, so how can they possibly prove they’re “good” enough to know what they’re advising on?

As another community member reminded us, however, numerous men have faced this exact same conundrum and were still able to make their way to the top. Earl Weaver never even made it to a Triple-A minor league club, let alone the majors, yet he still achieved a tremendous career as a manager with the Baltimore Orioles, and ultimately was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The same goes for legendary Yankees skipper Joe McCarthy, who failed to crack the pros and ended up winning seven World Series rings in the Bronx anyway.

Similarly, Carlos Tosca never even played professional baseball, but went on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays and also coached on a number of Major League clubs, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, and Atlanta Braves.

So if the issue isn’t respect earned through a proven track record, then what is it?

Rachel Balkovec has many “firsts” attached to her resume. With the St. Louis Cardinals’ affiliate team in Johnson City in 2012, she won the Appalachian League strength coach of the year. Two years later with the same team, she became the first woman in baseball to fill the role as a full-time strength and conditioning coordinator. In 2016, the Houston Astros hired her as the first female strength and conditioning coach for Latin America, and then in 2018 she was brought back to coach the Astros’ Double-A team. After signing with the New York Yankees in 2019, Balkovec became the very first woman to hold a full-time hitting coach position.

One might look at these achievements and think, “Yeah, she’s making her way up by proving herself and earning the respect of each organization, just like a man has to.” The problem is that even with two masters’ degrees in biomechanics and human movement — and an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals — Rachel’s career was almost a complete nonstarter. No one was interested in hiring “Rachel,” but as soon as she changed the name on her resume to “Rae” and “Division 1 softball catcher” to “Division 1 catcher,” the offers for interviews came flooding in. Even then, when many organizations heard a female voice on the other end of the line, she was met with intense doubt and hesitation until someone was finally willing to give her a chance.

So, while it’s true that one of the major disadvantages a woman faces is that she has not had experience competing in professional baseball, this should not — and cannot — be the end of the discussion. As we have seen throughout history, men without playing experience at the higher levels were still able to coach and manage with the respect of their teams through the display of hard work, knowledge, and an understanding of the game. Trailblazers such as Rachel Balkovec are proving to the world that given the chance, women are more than capable of showing these same characteristics, and should therefore be awarded the same opportunities.

Today, Balkovec is thriving in her current position with the Yankees. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, she went to Australia, where she coached the Sydney Blue Sox. This year, she made history again as the first woman to coach at the Futures Game, and is now stationed in Florida, where she is helping to develop some of the top Yankees prospects ... including teenage wunderkind Jasson Dominguez.

2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game

When I asked if Balkovec had any advice for girls and young women trying to make their own way in baseball, she replied: “Being an underdog is an advantage. So if someone is holding you back, look at that moment as an opportunity for growth. If you have to work harder to get where you are going, that is a good thing. It will benefit you in the long run, even if it doesn’t feel great at the moment.”

Looking back on Balkovec’s career, the challenges that she has faced and overcome, and the determined efforts she is still making to improve ... these are not only words of wisdom for future generations, but a mantra by which we can all seek to live.