TAMPA, Fla. -- At some point this spring, Aaron Boone will hand the keys to the George M. Steinbrenner Field manager’s office over to Rachel Balkovec, who is preparing to lead the Low-A Tampa Tarpons on what promises to be a historic journey through the Minor League schedule.
It has been six weeks since the Yankees announced Balkovec’s promotion to become the first female manager in affiliated professional baseball. A great deal of attention will be placed upon April 8, when the Tarpons open their regular season. But Balkovec said that she remains focused on the here and now.
“These guys are here to prepare,” Balkovec said at the Yankees’ player development complex, where the club is running a Minor League mini-camp. “I’m here studying every morning, watching video and going through my day, learning aspects of defense that I haven’t really been paying close attention to as a hitting coach. I’m grateful for this time right now.”
Balkovec’s promotion generated a groundswell of congratulations from the sports world, including her favorite, a celebratory message from tennis legend and equal rights advocate Billie Jean King. She spent last season as a hitting coach in the rookie-level Florida Complex League, and she said it has been fun to hear the Yankees’ Minor Leaguers calling her “Skip.”
“If you’re with the Yankees, [increased attention] is just a part of the gig,” Balkovec said. “I view it as another part of my job that I have to hone those skills. It’s part of my day; I don’t think it’s any different than what I do out here [on the field]. It’s just the responsibility I have.”
Balkovec has been a coach in professional baseball for a decade, becoming the first female full-time hitting coach in an MLB organization when she took on her previous role in 2019. She coached in the Australian Baseball League after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Minor League season, and she was on the coaching staff for the 2021 All-Star Futures Game.
As she ascended through the Yankees' organizational ranks, Balkovec received rave reviews from colleagues, including vice president of player development Kevin Reese. Dillon Lawson, the Yanks’ current big league hitting coach, recommended that general manager Brian Cashman promote Balkovec to the FCL hitting coach position.
“Getting the opportunity to set a standard is always a privilege,” Balkovec said. “It’s something that I’ve done my whole life, and wanted to do my whole life. This [managerial] role is just a little bit more of that, so in a good way, it feels like something that’s even more natural to me than being a hitting coach.”
During her time in the organization, Balkovec has worked closely with several of New York's top prospects, including Jasson Dominguez, the franchise's No. 2 prospect (and No. 17 overall) per MLB Pipeline. It is possible that Balkovec’s first lineup card will feature the switch-hitting Dominguez in center field.
“I just get excited to have him in the clubhouse,” Balkovec said. “We have a great relationship. I know he’s going to have my back and be a good communicator to players. I think having that strong relationship is going to be great to have him on the squad, and obviously have him run down a few balls with his speed. That never hurts.”