Hillsboro's Gajownik makes history as first High-A woman full-time manager

April 7th, 2023

John Swanda delivered, Wilderd Patino watched it and Brendan Tinsman framed it to no avail.

A first pitch like thousands of others in baseball history ... only there was nothing ordinary about this contest between High-A Hillsboro and Tri-City. Ronnie Gajownik eventually watched her leadoff batter strike out, but the moment stamped her name in the annals of the ever-changing baseball landscape.

One year after the Yankees' Rachel Balkovec broke barriers by becoming the first female skipper in affiliated ball for Single-A Tampa, Gajownik carved out her own niche. With Thursday's game, she became the first female full-time manager at the High-A level. (Veronica Alvarez served as interim manager in a six-game series for the A's-affiliated High-A Lansing Lugnuts in 2022.)

It didn't result in a victory -- host Tri-City spoiled her debut with a 9-2 win -- but the enormity of the night far outweighed a single loss.

"A lot of emotions. I really didn’t eat today, so a little bit nervous," Gajownik said after the game. "I care about the staff and these guys and what’s best for them, so definitely nerves, but good nerves. So, I can take a little bit more of a breath after this. It’s just great to see and to be part of that change that is really kicking the door down."

Gajownik, who won a gold medal in the 2015 Pan-American Games as part of Team USA's women's baseball team, joined Arizona in 2021 as a video assistant for Hillsboro. The Winter Park, Fla., native was slated to be a coach for the D-backs' Rookie-level Arizona Complex League team, but a broken foot to one of Double-A Amarillo's coaches created a void ... and Gajownik stepped into it, handling first-base coaching duties for all of 2022.

Ronnie Gajownik goes over ground rules with the umpiring crew before the Hillsboro Hops' game.(Photo by Jared Ravich/MLB Photos)

She added another line on her résumé last fall when she was a coach with Salt River during the Arizona Fall League.

"She did a great job working with the guys in Amarillo," Arizona farm director Josh Barfield told MLB.com in January. "She's just got such an ease about her, the way she connects with people. I think some of the best coaches -- obviously they have good content and she has that. ... She shows leadership, she shows initiative."

The rest of the D-backs' brass agreed and Gajownik was welcomed back to Hillsboro, where she began her professional career, but this time as the manager.

"It means a lot. … It shows how much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears of all those years of grinding on the ball field and then getting myself into a position that I needed to get myself into to get myself here," she explained. "It’s been a lot lately, but I know that probably tonight and the next couple of months when I settle down a little bit more into that, I’ll be able to truly reflect and really take it in."

The significance of Gajownik's achievement wasn't lost on her, but she was far more focused on the task at hand than any long-term impact ... for now.

"I honestly really haven’t given it any thought yet," Gajownik said. "Just because we’re so focused on the game, who’s coming in when and getting all this stuff done. I know that tonight, when I finally get back to my hotel room, I’ll finally be able to take that breath and understand how big of a moment it was for me, and then also too, just for the future of women in professional sports."

For her part, Gajownik isn't shying away from her place in history ... or what it means for the future of other girls looking to do the same. As a matter of fact, she's embracing it wholeheartedly and has a message for other girls and women who have similar aspirations.

"Take confident steps into the unknown and at some point, you’re going to look up and you’re going to find yourself in a pretty cool place just like how I have, and I’ve been blessed to be able to say that."