Rachel Balkovic: Manager of the Tampa Trapon

Clearwater, Fla. – Link Over Tampa Bay, Tampa, Fla. Driving to the causeway connecting here, Rachel Balkovic asked the prospects of two big Yankees sitting in the backseat of their car, asking if they had ever done softball.

Antonio Gomez, 20, a pitcher from Venezuela, said he has. Jason Dominguez, 19, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball, said he has too – but it was the men who played in his now-dominant Dominican Republic. Nor did women play college softball.

“You’re going to see what a female athlete looks like,” Balcovic, 34, said.

It was during a dinner with those players that in the middle of the week, long before the minor league season began, Bilovic realized that they probably didn’t know much about his background.

They knew she was a unicorn – the first woman to work as a manager in associated professional baseball – but they didn’t know much about softball, before the game was played at Bolshevik College. Doing and trying the path up to this point. So Balkovic, the manager of the Tampa Terps, a Yankees affiliate with a lower Class A, had an idea: take Dominguez and Gomez to a pre-season softball tournament at several US colleges that were nearing the Yankees’ spring training facility. Yes.

Balakovic’s job is a watershed moment for baseball’s male-dominated sport. Countless women can relate to rejected reactions to job openings, resulting in an even more comprehensive resume (she holds a masters degree in sports administration and a bachelor’s degree in biomechanics). , His short sleeves and his long tail. Way to run a baseball team.

During her 10 years working in professional baseball, she broke the glass wall: the first woman to hold a full-time position at the Little League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator (with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014); The first woman to serve as a full-time hitting instructor by a major league team (with the Yankees in 2019); And now the first female manager. On the right side, the eyes of the Baloch people open. Spending four hours on a Saturday evening was a recent example of Dominguez and Gomez taking to the softball game.

“I didn’t have a wonderful sports career, but I was a high-level athlete,” said Balcovic, who catches softball teams at Creighton University and the University of New Mexico. “And in the Dominican Republic, for example, you just don’t see that happen to most women. In fact, almost never. And they don’t get it, so I want to show them.

Balkovic said this when she drives to pick up Dominguez and Gomez from a hotel in which they were staying during the Yankees’ pre-season camp. During a 30-minute drive to the site of the St. Pete / Clearwater Elite Invitational, they talked about the complexities of softball, their early advance in professional baseball in 2012 (as a receptionist for morning goods company Marucci and, in the morning) Of late, as a power and conditioning intern for the Cardinals) and the reason for their journey in the first place.

“I came because Rachel always has good ideas,” Gomez said in English – designed to allow two players to practice their second language, following a rule of Bolshevik. (Balcovic, a Nebraska native, often answered in Spanish, learning from Latin American players over the years.)

Throughout the evening, the players learned more about Balkovic, who began his career on April 8, and what he represented. As they rode the tournament trolley from the parking lot to the softball stadiums, Balcovic explained that she was now more comfortable staying away from the field with her players.

As a young strength and conditioning coach, she said she used to take players to the supermarket to teach them how to eat healthy, but she would never take them to dinner. He called these days the “Wild West” because there were hardly any other women in baseball. He said people feared that the players were having a romantic relationship with him, and he would never find a cropped top or tank top around them.

“She’s a big picture thinker, and in any area of ​​life – a coach, a manager, my manager at my job – first and foremost, if you love someone and you trust them. Well, you’re ready to do what he asks, “Balkovic’s sister, Stephanie, said in a phone interview.” For a long time in her early days, I would cry over her as she would watch them. Didn’t happen that he was human. “

But, as she grew up, her colleagues and players got to know her better and the society progressed (slightly later, more women worked in baseball), Balcovic said. She’s not worried about how things like clothing are now considered because her priorities were clear. She sees herself not only as a manager but as a life coach for her players, especially Latin Americans who are facing unique challenges. Not only does she talk to her athletes about how to improve their swing and their bodies, but she is also tough or gracious when needed, and she talks to them about things like their off-field goals and their. How should respect women be.

“That’s the part that is Rachel, someone who cares about these people a lot, and it’s not always in the traditional way, like, ‘Oh, let’s go to a baseball game so we can talk about this guy’s slider.’ Do ‘or’ Let’s watch the video. ‘ Looking through different lenses and its many benefits.

Immediately after closing the tournament’s trolley, a fan recognized Balkovic. Gomez and Dominguez made themselves laugh but were impressed.

The series continued throughout the night. As all three games between the University of Texas-UCLA and Michigan State-Louisiana State bowled, Balcovic was stopped at least six times for autographs or posing for photos, including for young girls. Attendance by the softball team is included. That happened to Gomez and Dominguez, a very reliable prospect who signed with the Yankees for $ 5 million when he was 16 years old, three times.

“Rachel is so popular!” Gomez said.

During the game, Dominguez and Gomez combined with Balcovic for questions or observations. Identify the swings they liked. They were happy after the big games. (At one point, Gomez joined the Texas fans in the song.) They took photos and took video of the game. They pointed out that a national network was broadcasting the game. They were surprised at the pitchers and wondered if they could hit a softball. Dominguez called the game exciting and faster than baseball.

“They’re so good!” Gomez said. “I know that women have a lot of potential,” said Dominguez, who has never played women’s softball. I never thought in my life that I would see women doing this, throwing it hard and playing like this.

Once the Texas-UCLA game was over, Dominguez and Gomez followed Balkovic so she could say hello to the UCLA coaches she knew.

Balcovic introduces his players to Kelly Inoue-Perez, UCLA’s head softball coach. Gomez wants a picture with the UCLA team, and Dominguez, while initially embarrassed, soon disputes. Envy Perez told his squad about Balcovic’s new gig.

“The good part is that she’s in a position of power, and it adds a lot to us as a woman and as a female leader and about the opportunities in the Yankees,” he said. “How is that?”

On the side, Inoue-Perez explained that his team had been a fan of Balcovic for some time. And when Balkovic was promoted, Lisa Fernandez, an assistant UCLA coach and a three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, sent her a text message, forgetting that Balcovic was her number.

“Hey, Rachel. This is Liza Fernandez, the coach at UCLA, and I’m so excited for you, “Balcovic recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Lisa, you don’t have to tell me who you are! I had your belt when I was a kid.

Ask for a photo with Enoi-Perez Gomez and Dominguez “So when you’re in the big leagues, you remember who I am. As they paused, Anew-Perez called Balcovic, “Go here, coach.”

“The manager,” Gomez replied with a smile.

During the drive back to Tampa, Balcovic had some unique ideas for his players.

First, he told Dominguez and Gomez about a pet he hoped he would not see during the upcoming trumpet season: the players disappeared in their cell phones at the clubhouse instead of talking to each other.

Second, she wants to plant a seed. Part of it was because she wanted to become general manager one day, she told them, because she wanted to eliminate the talent pipeline from Latin America. While MLB teams had educational programs, he felt that there was not enough emphasis on developing players as human beings. He noted how the international amateur signature system can be damaged. She asked for their opinion.

Balkovic then told them about his dream that he would go to another college. Gomez called it his plan b.

“If you’re just a good baseball player, and you make a lot of money, that’s it,” he said, adding later, “You have to do more. go to school. be different. And different in this business is more important than money, women, going out on other things – this is very common.

“It’s an easy life,” Gomez said. But then he presented his point of view. She told about Balkovec how she grew up in the United States with more opportunities than in Venezuela. He explained how, when he was 12, his father asked him if he wanted to focus on school or baseball, and he chose that later. He continued, “It’s different. We were not born here.”

“I know what you’re saying, but now you’re here,” he replied. “You have the money and a little security, so you can start thinking about other things beyond just that.” He later added, “I know you’re young. Okay. This is something you need to think about in your life. What are you doing here? Just to play baseball in this world? What is the purpose? “

“I don’t know,” Gomez said. “Baseball is even harder.”

The conversation continued as Balkovic turned into his hotel parking lot. When she stopped, Gomez and Dominguez said goodbye and added something some baseball managers are likely to count on from their players.

“Rachel, you are in love,” Gomez said. “thank you.”

“Thank you,” Dominguez added. “I love you.”

Leave a Comment