After 117 seasons of Major League Baseball, it appears the glass ceiling has been broken for women in sports with the first woman general manager being hired: Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins.
Ng’s hire hopes to set a trend within the industry, opening up a number of opportunities.
“It changes my life,” said Rachel Balkovec, a minor league hitting coach for the New York Yankees. “I wouldn’t have realized that five years ago, but I just know how impactful this is on my life and my career.”
Balkovec is also the first in her field, as she is the first full-time female hitting coach in Major League Baseball. But, it’s been a long time coming to get into the dugout in uniform for Balkovec.
Since the age of five, Balkovec has been on the diamond. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, she was able to be around the College World Series each year which only grew her love for baseball. As young as the age of 18, Balkovec knew she wanted to eventually become a strength and conditioning coach.
After Balkovec was a catcher for the softball team at the University of New Mexico, she received her master’s degree at LSU. During her time at LSU, Balkovec was a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach in the athletic department, kicking off what would become an eventful and successful career.
In the summer of 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals reached out to LSU to see if anyone was interested in strength and conditioning in baseball. They responded with a yes, but they said that “it’s a she.”
The Cardinals accepted Balkovec as an intern that summer, and that’s when she knew she wanted to work in baseball.
“I didn’t even realize how important [the internship] was in my career,” she said. “That was a normal path. Man or woman, that was normal. I got done with my graduate assistantship at LSU, and I was offered an internship after with the Cardinals, that’s normal. What happened after that, was not normal.”
After the Cardinals internship concluded, it was time for Balkovec to seek employment. It was 2013 and as she was residing in Phoenix, where many minor league teams were located. She applied for 8-10 MLB jobs; she heard nothing back.
”I thought, ‘That’s weird,’ but I really didn’t think anything of it. I just thought, ‘I’m young and just applied for a lot of jobs,’ and that’s it,” Balkovec said.
Balkovec’s resume was incredibly attractive and jam packed on paper, so it was confusing on why she wasn’t receiving any calls back.
Finally, she received an offer.
The phone call came from a team looking for an open position after someone quit. She went in for an interview and thought it went really well. The man who originally called her for a spot said he wanted to hire her, saying he would call back to finish paperwork, Balkovec said.
She didn’t hear back.
But, a few weeks later, she finally did receive a call from the man. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, nor was it what she was expecting.
The man said, “Hey, I’m really sorry, we’re not going to be able to hire you. It’s because you’re a woman, I wanted to let you know what you’re up against,” Balkovec remembered.
“I was appreciative he was honest because it actually opened up my eyes to what was going on,” Balkovec said. “It was a big brick in the face. I was very caught off guard.”
This wasn’t going to slow down Balkovec’s resolve to work in baseball.
As she sought employment in MLB, she became a waitress to acquire income. She also returned to Arizona State for a second time for an unpaid internship to improve her resume as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, assisting with baseball, men’s basketball and women’s soccer.
“Mentally, I just wanted to do it. I had this desire to do it. But also, I had this chip on my shoulder like, ‘Wait a second, how many other women have applied for these jobs, were turned down and just quit?’” Balkovec said. “I had the resume to do it, I was prepared to do it and I knew I could do a good job… At some point it kind of just became, ‘I have to do this, I have to keep pushing because I know there is an opportunity to open doors for others.’”
She was hired to return to the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor league strength coach, which led to her being hired by the Houston Astros to become their Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator.
Her adventurous self then took her to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where she acquired a second masters degree and became a skill acquisition coach for the Dutch national team.
In 2020, she returned to the United States to accept a minor league hitting coach position for the New York Yankees, the first female to ever do so full-time. This winter she is now the hitting coach for the Sydney Blue Sox, an Australian Baseball League team, where she works along many MLB minor leaguers and potential hall of famer, Manny Ramirez.
For Balkovec, a woman with high goals, there’ll never be a day where she sits back and says, “I made it.”
“The opportunity to pursue is living the dream, and I have the opportunity to pursue a dream,” she said. “I want to be a general manager, that’s a goal of mine. So, I could say, ‘Oh, when I’m a GM I will have made it,’ but, I know I’m going to get there and there’s going to be some other mountain to climb.”
Balkovec’s goals are a representation of her ambitions.
“I want to win three World Series back, to back, to back with a team. I want to develop a team that is a dynasty-level organization that has positive impacts on the community and on the sport of baseball. That’s going to take a long time, I don’t know if I’m ever going to ‘make it,’ but I don’t really care,” Balkovec said. “Living the American dream is the ability to pursue, and for me, being in my circumstances where I’m a woman in this game, just the fact that I have an opportunity to pursue that goal is pretty crazy.”
With Kim Ng as the new general manager for the Miami Marlins, there are now new openings in baseball, and Rachel Balkovec is up next.