SAN DIEGO -- When Rachel Balkovec tries on the Yankees pinstripes as the franchise's first full-time female on-field instructor this spring, there will likely be a pause in which she offers gratitude to the women who came before her. It won't last long -- there will be work to do.
Tabbed to serve as a Gulf Coast League hitting coach who will also spend time with farm teams in the Dominican Republic, Balkovec is scheduled to report to the club's Minor League Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1.
"I'm not the first woman to have a position in baseball, but I know this is a little different," Balkovec said. "I'm a product of the women who have come before me in sports. If somebody thinks I'm a trailblazer, great, because hopefully that's creating an opportunity to think it's possible for [others]."
A product of Omaha, Neb., Balkovec has joined the Cubs' Rachel Folden as the latest women to be hired by Major League franchises. Folden was tabbed earlier this offseason as the lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for Chicago's Rookie-level Mesa affiliate. In 2015, Justine Siegal became the first woman to serve as an MLB coach when she was an A's instructor in the Arizona Fall League.
Balkovec said that on the day that she signed her Yankees contract, she was most excited for the opportunity to speak with assistant general manager Jean Afterman, who has pushed open many doors over nearly two decades in the club's front office.
"From a woman's perspective, I view my path as an advantage, because I had to do probably much more than a male counterpart," Balkovec said. "I like that because I'm so much more prepared for the challenges that I may encounter. … I'm glad that I had to work harder because now I'm way more prepared than I would have been."
According to general manager Brian Cashman, Balkovec's hiring was strongly recommended by hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson, who met her three years ago when they were in the Astros organization -- Lawson as a Minor League hitting coach and Balkovec as the club's Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator.
"He was extremely impressed about her background in strength and conditioning and the biomechanics side," Cashman said. "When I had [senior director of player development] Kevin Reese and Dillon rave to such a level about her as they did, that was all good enough for me."
Cashman said that in the weeks since Balkovec's hire, she was interviewed for a Major League coaching position by the Giants, adding: "Thankfully, she's still ours."
Balkovec's credentials include two master's degrees in the science of human movement as well as experience at several Minor League clubs. Reese said that Balkovec's extensive background set her apart from other candidates.
"The whole thing is we're trying to make players better," Reese said. "The most important question was, 'Does she make us better?' And the answer is yes."
Since August, Balkovec has been researching eye tracking for hitters and hip movement for pitchers at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven performance training center in Washington State.
The Yankees tabbed Driveline's Sam Briend this past summer to head their organizational pitching blueprint, and Balkovec hopes she can apply some of her expertise to the hitting prospects of tomorrow.
"Being able to put two and two together for somebody with swing mechanics, helping a guy figure something out, that's opening an opportunity for him to be more successful," Balkovec said. "Developing that personal relationship from a coaching perspective is really my deepest passion."