It's just the beginning for women in baseball

Balkovec hire provides road map, optimism for women seeking similar career paths

January 13th, 2022

A pair of master’s degrees in human movement sciences. An extensive background in cutting-edge analytics, including researching eye tracking for hitters and hip movement for pitchers. Ten years working as a coach in professional baseball, including the past two seasons as a hitting coach in the Yankees’ organization.

Rachel Balkovec is more than qualified for her new role as the manager of the Yankees’ Low-A Tampa Tarpons -- a historic hire as the first female manager in affiliated baseball.

The hope among other women seeking a similar career path is that this is just the beginning. It’s fair to wonder if, given the Yankees’ historic hire, the optimism is at an all-time high.

“It’s obviously extremely exciting for our industry and for women in sports generally,” MLB's senior coordinator of baseball operations Elizabeth Benn, who oversees the annual “Take the Field” offseason symposium, said in a phone interview with “But it’s also to me not the most surprising thing because of her success in baseball already and everything that she’s done to create this profile for herself.”

That sentiment was shared among many after hearing of Balkovec’s new role. One such voice was that of Luisa Gauci, an Australian woman playing baseball at a junior college in Washington while working full-time in a coordinator position at Driveline.

From 2013-19, Gauci played men’s baseball in Australia before committing to a junior college in Los Angeles. After landing an internship with Driveline, Gauci applied to several schools in Washington. Only one across the entire state would allow her to play baseball: Green River College.

Gauci met Balkovec three years ago, at her first Take the Field event at the Winter Meetings. The program, which began in 2018, was created as part of Major League Baseball’s mission to promote and help prepare women for jobs in baseball. Since its inaugural year, Take the Field has resulted in dozens of hires and networking opportunities for women in the sport, including giving Gauci a mentor in Balkovec.

“With her hiring, [it just] comes as no surprise,” Gauci said of her mentor. “This is where she wants to be and she’s very headstrong. So she was going to get there or anywhere she wanted to be no matter what the circumstance.”

Gauci first got involved with MLB’s diversity programs after speaking at a Sabermetrics Scouting and Science of Baseball seminar in Boston. It was there she met Benn and Tyrone Brooks, the senior director of MLB’s front office and field staff diversity pipeline program. After attending her third Take the Field event, Gauci is optimistic that in the near future, gender identity won’t have to factor into hiring headlines.

“I definitely see the next five years, like, that’s not even going to be a question,” Gauci said. “Because there’s going to be so many women being hired that there won’t be enough reporters to report on it.”

Alexia Jorge, who held a spot on the 2019 U.S. Women’s National team development roster, participated in her first Take the Field event this past December. At just 18 years old, Jorge has already made her mark on the sport as the first female baseball player at Saint Elizabeth University in Morristown, N.J.

“I feel really good about the future,” Jorge said. “As more women start to break through on the Major League level, it’s going to be easier for me to get my foot in the door with regard to coaching. … I’m just super excited to see what we can do. And it’s just kind of exciting because I could be in that loop.

“To really think that my dreams could come true through this, just because of other women trying to do what they’re doing right now is amazing. It’s insane. There is literally no other way to put it.”

In 2022, 10 women will work as on-field coaches across Major and Minor League teams. Eight of the women were hired for their current role in either ‘21 or this year, with six having been hired or promoted in ‘22. Though the list doesn’t include strength and conditioning or mental health coaches, the number would approximately double with those roles factored in. Eight of the 10 hires have been past participants or instructors in the Take the Field program.

Moreover, more than 40 Take the Field participants have been hired into new roles in the baseball industry -- including non-club roles -- following their participation in the event since 2018.

“Clubs understand the value of this program and really use it as a source for their offseason hiring,” Benn said. “Clubs are directly reaching out looking for candidates, they look forward to this event. We have GMs, coaches, [assistant] GMs reaching out to us asking if they can be a part of it. And so it’s really become a source for very top qualified candidates who are ready now to get into baseball for clubs to choose from.”

Balkovec joins a group of women who have climbed the baseball ranks and will work as on-field coaches in 2022, including: Alyssa Nakken, who became the first full-time female coach in MLB history after she was hired as an assistant coach in the Giants’ organization; Rachel Folden (hitting coach in Cubs’ farm system); Bianca Smith (hitting/outfield coach in Red Sox’s system); Ronnie Gajownik (coach in D-backs’ system); Veronica Alvarez (A’s Spring Training catching instructor and roving Minor League instructor); Jaime Vieira (hitting coach in Blue Jays’ system); Katie Krall (development coach in Boston’s system); Caitlyn Callahan (development coach in Pirates’ system); and Gretchen Aucoin (coach in Mets’ system).

“When Kim Ng was hired as the General Manager of the Marlins prior to the 2021 season, it was a meaningful step forward,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement following Balkovec’s introductory press conference on Wednesday. “I am pleased to see the game continue to make important progress at various levels. Major League Baseball is committed to providing a supportive environment for women and girls to pursue our sport as players, coaches, umpires and executives. We are proud of Rachel, new Director of Player Development Sara Goodrum of the Astros and all the women across our sport who are setting a positive example for our next generation of fans and proving, on and off the field, that Baseball is a game for everyone.”

MLB has also celebrated the success of the recent launch of its Diversity Pipeline Scout Development program, an initiative designed to help build a pipeline of diverse talent for MLB teams.

Created in partnership with the Buck O’Neil Professional Scouts and Coaches Association, the program featured daily classroom instruction along with scouting opportunities at Arizona Fall League games across the Phoenix metro area.

So far, the program has produced nine full-time hires, five promotions and one internship.