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When Rachel Balkovec reports to spring training on Feb. 1 in Tampa, she will make baseball history. Balkovec was hired by the New York Yankees as a hitting coach earlier this month, according to The New York Times, and she is believed to be the first woman to join an MLB organization as full-time hitting instructor.
Balkovec, 32, will serve as a roving minor league instructor, per MLB.com.
She has broken barriers in baseball before. Balkovec was also the first woman to be hired in a full-time strength and conditioning position in baseball when she worked for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2014-15. She joined the Houston Astros in 2016 as the Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator, where she learned Spanish. Last year, Balkovec was the strength and conditioning coach for the Astros’ Class AA club in Corpus Christi.
Balkovec is more than qualified to serve in her capacity. She has two master’s degrees in the science of human movement, and Yankees hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson told The Times that Balkovec was hired because “she’s a good hitting coach, and a good coach, period.”
Balkovec faced obstacles
Balkovec said to The Times that she did face discrimination when applying for jobs in baseball as a woman. She only started receiving interest after changing her name on her applications to “Rae” instead of “Rachel,” and prospective employers were surprised to hear a woman’s voice. According to The Times, one team told her it would “never hire a woman.”
Balkovec is not the only woman coaching in baseball, though the number is sparse. In 2015, Justine Siegal was the first female coach in MLB history, joining the Oakland A’s as a guest instructor for fall instructional league.
Last Friday, the Chicago Cubs hired Rachel Folden as the lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for their Rookie League Mesa affiliate.
“There's no way we can be as good as we want to be unless we have women contributing,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said last year, via MLB.com.
Baseball has long faced issues with diversifying. The majority of fans are white and men over the age of 55. It might take longer than more progressive sports leagues for MLB to integrate more women into the sport. But hires like Balkovec are a step in the right direction.
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