Rachel Balkovec strikes gender barriers out of the park

Sarah Goody

On Jan. 9, the baseball community erupted into applause for 34-year-old Rachel Balkovec after she made history by becoming the first woman to manage a minor league team in the Major League Baseball Association (MLB). Balkovec was appointed as the team manager of the Yankees minor league team, the Tampa Tarpons. In light of this historic achievement, there is both tremendous excitement for the future of sports management and a reflection of the current lack of diversity among players and coaches.

Inspiring girls to get involved in sports management, Balkovec manages the Yankees Tampa Tarpons. (photo courtesy of New York Times)

Balkovec is no stranger to making historic firsts as a female in the professional baseball world. Previously, she was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league conditioning coach and hitting coach in the minor league. 

“I knew when I signed the contract with the Yankees that I have two jobs to do. Being a hitting coach and also a visible idea for young women as much as humanly possible,” Balkovec said in an interview with Fox News from January 2022.

For the girls’ varsity softball pitcher, senior Katie Connors, the issue of gender inclusivity hits closer home. Connors has been playing softball since she was five and has witnessed blatant gender biases working as a coach with Marin Baseball, her father’s organization.

“It takes more time for people [and players] to respect me [as a female coach]. If they don’t know my abilities or talents as a player or as a coach, it takes longer for them to realize [my capabilities] and to have [that] mutual respect,” Connors said.

Demonstrating a batting stance, Balkovec shares feedback with her team, advising them on their next moves. (photo courtesy of NJ.com)

This respect is also important to Connors’s teammate, junior Georgia Pineda, who fondly remembers experiences with female coaches, both on and off the field.

“The female coaches that I’ve had are usually a lot more knowledgeable [than male coaches] in terms of fundamentals and athletic specifics and they need to be acknowledged for that knowledge,” said Pineda

In a study done by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), as of Jan. 1, 2021, 22 women had either on-field coaching or player development roles, in comparison to three in 2017. After hiring Balkovec to the Tarpons and Kim Ng as the league’s first general manager with the Miami Marlins, it is clear that more women have made headway with their involvement in the MLB and sports management.

As a research analyst for the Redwood football team, junior and sports fan Sam Zlot has noticed an increase in female managers.

Watching from the dugout, Balkovec examines her team’s performance (photo courtesy of NPR)

“We are entering a whole new era where women can actually do professional sports. Stereotypically, boys are more interested in sports, but the stigma that girls can’t be coaches [is disappearing],” Zlot said.

It is increasingly obvious that more females and getting involved in sports, and pressure is mounting on sports officials to recognize that women have the capability to be powerful leaders in the industry.

“You [can] go to college to get a degree in marketing, advertising, management or sports management, so it’s not like the knowledge that you have is [only] developed through playing the sport. It’s developed for learning and that is learning that women and men should be able to do equally,” Pineda said.

Regarding the future of gender diversity in professional sports, Connors, Pineda and Zlot all claimed that the key to increasing female leadership is prioritizing respect on and off the field. 

“Once women have the respect that they deserve within the industry, they will feel more comfortable taking part in it,” Pineda said.

Connors’ sister Annie Connors is a senior at San Diego State University (SDSU) and participates in the SDSU Sports Management Initiative. This program provides opportunities for students to learn about the many career possibilities in sports and connect with leaders in the industry.

“[Annie] had an internship where she was a manager for a sports team near the Giants and having resources [like the Sports Management Initiative,] where young adults or young females can learn how to do sports management, is really awesome,” Connors said.

As Balkovec starts the season with the Tarpons, the world will be watching to see how baseball reacts to this historic first for women in sports.

“If Balkovec has a losing season, people will say ‘oh, she’s a woman, she can’t do it’” Pineda said. “They never blame it on the manager [if they are a man], but I just know that if she has a bad season, people are going to count on her for it.”