Brian Cashman remembers being caught off guard when he hired Kim Ng to be his assistant general manager in 1998.
Cashman had just taken over as Yankees general manager, and he wasn’t prepared for the media frenzy that would come with hiring Ng, a woman, to a prominent front office position. The way Cashman saw it, she was simply the best person for the job.
“Hopefully we can get to a point where this is no longer newsworthy,” he remembers saying at the time.
Cashman recounted that story on Wednesday while introducing Rachel Balkovec as the new manager of the Yankees’ Low-A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons. While a number of baseball women have been hired to influential positions in recent years, Balkovec’s new gig is unprecedented: she will be the first woman to ever manage a professional affiliated team.
Once again, Cashman’s decision has drawn a swell of coverage, though he was more prepared for that this time around. Still, he yearns for the day when such a hire doesn’t receive so much attention.
Balkovec, meanwhile, is not shying away from the spotlight. As far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have a choice.
“I don’t think you sign your name on the dotted line to do something like this and then say, ‘Well, I don’t want to be a role model,’” said Balkovec, a hitting coach in the organization since 2019. “I just don’t subscribe to that.”
Balkovec, 34, went on to explain that that’s a large reason why she’s active on social media. It is a way for people to see the history she’s making, as well as the determination it took to do so. Balkovec wants to be someone that other women and girls can look up to, but she’s not stopping there when it comes to her target audience.
“I want to be a visible idea for young women. I want to be a visible idea for dads that have daughters,” she said. “I want to be out there. I have two jobs, and that’s fine.”
Balkovec shared that there were times earlier in her career when she felt lonely. She was unable to lean on others with similar experiences because there hardly were any such people. She didn’t start receiving interest from MLB organizations until she changed her name from “Rachel” to “Rae” on her job applications. Calls followed, but so did rejection once teams realized they were speaking to a woman. She ultimately changed her name back, realizing she wouldn’t want to work for such people anyway.
Balkovec got her first job with the Cardinals in 2012 as a strength and conditioning coordinator. Similar positions with the White Sox and Astros followed. Her coaching has taken her to the Dominican Republic, Australia and the Netherlands, and she interned at Driveline, the analytics-focused training center in Washington.
A former catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology and master’s degrees in sports administration and biomechanics. She taught herself Spanish in her free time so that she could better connect with players.
She pushed and pushed until her resume forced teams to take notice. Now she’s about to embark on a journey that no woman ever has.
“There is always a first,” Cashman said. “There’s always someone who emerges who is not afraid, who wants it, that goes after it, and is strong enough to take it. Unfortunately, in some categories, it takes longer than others. And unfortunately, society had failed to recognize the strength and power – equal power, if not more power – that women possess.”
Balkovec is grateful for the route she took to get here, and even to those who unduly judged her. Now she wants young girls and women to know that following a similar path won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
“It’s gonna be hard. Good. I always say – this is a little counterintuitive – but I’m glad I was discriminated against,” Balkovec said. “By the time I was full-time, I had done six or seven internships in multiple places. I was super prepared, and obviously the life experience of going through that changed me forever.
“I’m glad my path was difficult, and it still serves me to this day.”
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