Rachel Balkovec has been working in baseball for 10 years, breaking barriers each step of the way.
Even after her latest historic achievement, however, it's safe to say that Balkovec's trailblazing career is just getting started.
After two years working as a minor league hitting coach in the Yankees organization, Balkovec was named manager of New York's Low-A Tampa Tarpons this week, making her the first female skipper in affiliated professional baseball.
This comes after years of facing discrimination over her gender as she slowly worked her way up in the industry across the globe. Despite an impressive resume, Balkovec was turned away from countless opportunities. At one point, the 34-year-old even changed her name to "Rae" on applications in an effort to be considered for strength and conditioning positions.
Nonetheless, Balkovec has continued to persevere, never giving up and continuing to ascend.
"Three years ago, on this day, I was sleeping on a mattress that I had pulled out of a dumpster in Amsterdam," Balkovec recalled during an introductory press conference on Wednesday. "Four years ago, I was studying physics flashcards on the floor of a bathroom stall in the San Antonio Missions women’s restroom because I wasn’t able to be in the clubhouse. I think it’s interesting to me, because I don’t understand the negativity. 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.”
Detailing the process of hiring their newest minor league skipper, Yankees vice president of player development Kevin Reese explained that everyone in the organization was on board with the decision, a testament to the reputation that Balkovec has built.
"The feedback was always positive on Rachel," Reese said Wednesday. "This is about her qualifications, her ability to lead and [the decision-making process] was relatively quick. I think the toughest part was probably talking her into it, selling her on the opportunity, what it was going to look like and how we were going to try to help. Once she was all in, it's been smooth since."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who recalled the "explosion of notoriety" when Kim Ng and Jean Afterman were hired by the Yankees in assistant general manager roles decades ago, added that he hopes these promotions will one day no longer be as newsworthy.
"You want to surround yourself with the best people possible, no matter who they are and where they're from so they can help serve the organization," Cashman said. "Rachel is obviously a part of that process and we're proud to say she's an employee of the New York Yankees and she's finding her way, moving up the ladder and forcing opportunities to be considered."
Balkovec reiterated that her ultimate goal in this industry is to one day become a big-league general manager. While that aspiration might've seemed far-fetched to some many years ago, now it seems achievable (if not inevitable) for someone as qualified and driven as Balkovec.
"Right now, I'm a manager," she said, referencing her background as a hitting coach as well. "This is where I'm gonna stay, I don't really have a timeline for when I would leave, but I just know in the future, that leadership and the front office is definitely present in my mind."
Asked if he can envision Balkovec as a manager at the big-league level some day, Cashman said he didn't want to put any limitations on what this trailblazer can accomplish in the future.
"The sky is the limit. She's determined, she's strong, she's got perseverance, she's obviously got a plan to what she wants to do in the present and where she wants to go in the future," Cashman said. "This is someone that will not be denied. She is passionate about our sport and wants to make sure that she learns all aspects, including other languages to put her in the best position to impact others.
"Rachel should be very proud of how far she's gotten thus far."
That last part is the key. Thus far.
Whatever Balkovec chooses to pursue next is within reach. All the while, Balkovec is paving a road for the next generation of young women interested in baseball that will follow, bringing what once was a blurry career path into crystal-clear focus.
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