Rachel Balkovec barely had time to soak it all in before a line drive from Seattle Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic bounced off her leg and brought everything back to reality.
In that top-of-the-first-inning moment Balkovec was not a trailblazer or a history maker, she was a first-base coach motioning to the player standing in the batter's box that everything was OK.
"I had to play it off, let’s be honest,” the first female coach in Futures Game history joked to the MLB Network broadcast later in the game. “I think I can go on record saying I’m the first woman to be absolutely smoked in the Futures Game. It’s a big moment in my career and I’m going to remember it forever.”
Just like the players on the field the 34-year-old Balkovec is trying to move up the ladder toward the Major Leagues, working with the game’s rising stars on the diamond and alongside past legends in the dugout. It’s a moment that happened suddenly but was actually years in the making.
COVID-19 related circumstances pushed Balkovec’s 2020 season with the Yankees organization into a winter with the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League as Minor League games were canceled across the country. She returned stateside this season and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Yankees, tasked with assisting Yankees 18-year-old top prospect Jasson Dominguez as he begins his journey through the Bombers’ farm system.
“He’s a special baseball talent,” Balkovec added. “But I think the real story and the real thing that people don’t know about him is that he’s an incredible person with an incredible work ethic ... everyone knows he’s a special talent on the field but I think (everything) off the field makes him the most unique."
Balkovec’s array of experience working with young talent across the globe got the attention of Futures Game manager LaTroy Hawkins, who helmed the American League team and helped make Sunday’s momentous occasion possible.
“He basically mentioned that he wanted a diverse staff,” Balkovec told Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch earlier this month. “He saw that I went to Australia and some things that I put out there on my accounts. We didn’t know each other previously, but when we got on the phone, it was kind of like: ‘Nice to finally meet you!’”
Balkovec and the American League All-Stars fell to the National League by an 8-3 final score, with Dominguez going 0-for-3 at the plate. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum collected Balkovec’s game-worn cap for archiving and display in Cooperstown.