St. Lucie Mets' trailblazing women aim to inspire

Single-A affiliate's staff offers advice at Elite Development Invitational

June 20th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. -- In 2021, if you told Gretchen Aucoin she’d become a developmental coach in the New York Mets organization, she wouldn’t have believed it.

“My biggest challenge was leaving where I was at and then basically trusting where I was going,” Aucoin said during a panel discussion with participants at the Elite Development Invitational at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “I basically dropped everything and was leaving it up to chance and to the big man upstairs where I was like ‘All right, we’re doing it.’”

Aucoin was one of four women on the staff for the Mets’ Single-A affiliate who spoke to the participants at the Softball EDI. The other women who spoke to the participants were nutritional associate Sarah Takach, assistant athletic trainer Grace DeStefano and mental performance coach Caitlin Haworth.

The discussion took place prior to the St. Lucie Mets' game with the Tampa Tarpons, who are managed by Rachel Balkovec.

Aucoin’s journey with softball and baseball brought her to Italy, Germany and New Zealand, where she had been living. Ultimately, she felt like it was time for a change of pace.

Aucoin reached out to Balkovec, who became the first woman to become a manager for a Major League-affiliated team.

Balkovec’s advice led Aucoin back to the United States for a baseball coaches conference in Chicago in January. When the first day of the conference concluded, she had an offer to become a player development coach for the St. Lucie Mets.

With her position as a player development coach, Aucoine became the first on-field female coach in the Mets organization.

“I did not think it was a possibility until I had reached out to Rachel,“ Aucoin said. “She was like, ‘Hey, you should totally try this. I think you’re well qualified. Here’s a contact, shoot them your resume and see what happens.’”

For Balkovec, the opportunity to help another woman get a job with a Major League team is a part of her purpose.

“It’s one of my main purposes in life,” Balkovec said. “I have my job and then I have my other job, which is to make sure I’m bringing other women behind me just like other women have before me and brought me along.”

As a player development coach, Aucoin is asked to be a jack of all trades for the Mets. Given how broad her position is, her daily routine varies based on what the team needs. Since the season began, multiple coaching changes have shown how unpredictable her position is.

“Since we started our season, a lot of coaching changes have gone on where we’ve had to shift and fill,” Aucoin said. “I’ve got to go from outfield, to baserunning coach, to assistant hitting coach to basically some duties of a bench coach.”

For DeStefano, 22, her day-to-day tasks include injury prevention, on-field exams and diagnosing injuries. DeStefano earned the role one year out of college. Given the circumstances, she struggled with her confidence early on.

“I struggled with confidence in the beginning because everybody was older than me,” DeStefano said. “Good advice for when you’re entering the field and you’re so young is just be confident. Be comfortable in your own skin and trust your abilities.”

Haworth earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in sports psychology. That helped her become the first mental performance and woman on the coaching staff in her first job in baseball.

Through the ups and downs of her position, Haworth’s biggest takeaway for helping players is being genuine.

“Being genuine will take you so much farther than being someone, or trying to be someone you’re not,” Haworth said. "Athletes pick up on it and coaches pick up on it. When you are yourself and you bring yourself to the table, you build relationships that are so much more impactful and have so much more of a difference.”

Takach swam competitively for 16 years before finding her way to becoming a nutritionist. In her position, the players' diets include what they like along with being “sassed” into eating their vegetables. She also noted the importance of a good support system while being a trailblazer.

“Being a woman in a male-dominant sport is having your support system,” Takach said. “We definitely have our fair share of moments where we just kind of need that extra push to be like go on, make space. Have your voice heard. That definitely has been my foundation here.”

Kasey Blair, an assistant general manager with St. Lucie who has multiple roles ranging from gameday operations to community relations events, said the opportunity to show younger girls the opportunities that sports have for them was imperative.

“It was really important for us to bring together a panel of these female employees with the Mets organization so that these girls could really see the opportunities that there are in sports for women now,” Blair said. “Even in the past five years, the number of female employees in every department of baseball has grown exponentially.”