Rachel Balkovec: Backstory Makes it Impossible Not to Root for Her

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The New York Yankees, for obvious reasons, are sometimes thought to be synonymous with Frank Sinatra, and one of his signature tunes, “That’s Life,” certainly applies to Rachel Balkovec. All about the roller coaster that is life, Balkovec, just 34, has already experienced the lowest nadirs and the highest apexes.

On Monday the news broke that she had just become the first female manager in the history of affiliated baseball. She now takes over the Tampa Tarpons, the Yankees’ Low A affiliate. Balkovec met the media yesterday, via Zoom, where she said she had to change her name to “Rae” on her resume in order to even get a 1st chance.

“Three years ago, on this day, I was sleeping on a mattress that I pulled out of a dumpster in Amsterdam,” she said.

“Four years ago, I was studying physics flash cards on the floor of a stall at the San Antonio Missions’ women’s bathroom because I wasn’t able to fit in the club house.

“I never understood the negativity, if you know my story, and you have a pulse, then I think it’s really hard not to get behind what’s going on here, but if you know yourself and where you came from, then it doesn’t really matter. So that’s how I deal with negativity, which is hilarious to me because this is the American dream.”

The media session, which had 112 reporters and lasted nearly an hour, saw Balkovec detail living in her car in Boston during wintertime, while she was encountering a ton of discrimination along numerous steps of her journey.

Rachel Balkovec joined the Yankees organization back in November 2019 as a minor league hitting coach, and she became the first woman to be named to that role in the history of professional baseball. Rachel Folden of the Chicago Cubs organization followed suit a few days later.

Balkovec served as hitting coach for the Florida Complex League (FCL) Yankees last season, and she’s also worked for the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. When she got her first job in Major League Baseball, with the St. Louis Cardinals, she had only $14 in her bank account.

Truly this is a story not just of “started from the bottom now we here,” as Drake would say, but also blazing a new social trail and breaking glass ceilings.

“Change is change, I was curious, like what am I going to look like in a uniform, so I can’t blame anyone for being curious,” she said.

“Bias and stereotypes have been around forever, but I do think we’ve made a ton of progress. There’s going to be 11 women in uniform (working as coaches in affiliated baseball) this season.”

2020 RACHEL BALKOVEC

That’s up from 2021, when we had six women in uniform throughout professional affiliated baseball.  

The Omaha, Nebraska native has two master’s degrees in human movement science, and in between her stints with the Yankees and Astros, she served as an apprentice hitting coach for the Netherlands National Baseball and Softball programs while earning a master’s in biomechanics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam .

Balkovec also conducted research in eye-tracking for hitters at Driveline Baseball, a high-tech performance training center outside of Seattle.

Rachel Balkovec is active on social media, and she says that’s because she wants to be a role model and an inspiration.

“I want to be a visible idea for young women,” she continued.

“I want to be a visible idea for dads that have daughters. I want to be out there. I have two jobs, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure Jackie Robinson didn’t sign up for his job and then go, no, I don’t want to sign autographs, it’s part of my job and I take that very seriously.”

The Jackie Robinson analogy is actually pretty apt here. Rachel Balkovec pondered where she used to be, how far she has come, and the journey along the way.

“Looking back on those days, it would have been incomprehensible to look at what the next decade was going to be like for myself, and for others,” she said.

jackie-robinson

“But I do think we’ve made a ton of progress in the way that people talk to me and the way that people react to me. It’s becoming normal- that’s pretty apparent.

“It’s exciting to see how much progress we’ve made and we definitely have a lot of room to grow.”

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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