'I love this': Kayla Baptista's coaching career taking off

March 7th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Kayla Baptista estimates that she’s been coaching in one way or another since she was in seventh grade.

A current Division I softball player at the University of North Carolina, Baptista often had skill well beyond her years, but always assumed boys wouldn’t want to learn from her. That was until 2019, when she spent a summer in Oranjestad, Aruba.

A friend and offseason training partner of hers who played baseball at the University of Maine brought up the possibility of Baptista joining him in Aruba to help coach at 297 Baseball Academy, a training facility that provides guidance and resources for both collegiate and professional baseball recruiting.

It was there in the blistering heat of the Caribbean, just living baseball from sun up to sun down, that Baptista began creating practice designs and running camps all day, every day. She and her friends basically ran the whole thing.

“I just had literally the best time of my life,” Baptista said. “That was my first time really coaching guys of all ages playing baseball and they all listened and respected me. I was like, ‘OK, I love this.’ It was kind of my moment of realization where it was like, ‘Wow, I can do this for the rest of my life.’ Like those 12 or 13 hours on the field didn't feel like a second work and I just loved every moment of it.”

It was that summer coaching at 297 Baseball Academy that put her on the path to baseball coaching and eventually to her current position as the Rangers' player development coaching apprentice.

That’s not to say Baptista didn’t have an inkling that she would end up coaching eventually, though. She always envisioned herself in coaching of some kind, ever since growing up watching the Red Sox at Fenway or their former Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket with her family. But that’s when she knew she wanted to fully immerse herself in the baseball world.

After getting back stateside from Aruba, Baptista applied for Rachel Balkovec's mentorship program, hoping to get her foot in the door with Major and Minor League Baseball.

Baptista wasn’t selected that year, but soon after was contacted by Balkovec herself. The two connected and Balkovec helped Baptista with her resume and cover letter and gave her advice about being a woman in the sport as she prepared to apply for internships.

“It's so encouraging [learning from] Rachel,” Baptista said. “We’ve become, I would say, friends over the last couple years. She and the other women in baseball are really the pioneers who started and shaped this for young women like me, so I'm very grateful for her.”

The resume and cover letter building led Baptista to her next opportunity. When she realized the Cape Cod Baseball League didn’t have any job or internship openings listed online, she took matters into her own hands by emailing a number of clubs throughout the league to see if something would stick.

“Next thing you know, [former Wareham Gatemen manager] Jerry Weinstein emailed me back and he was like, ‘I love your resume and cover letter, I'm going to forward this to our general manager,’” Baptista said. “He asked me to send videos of throwing BP and hitting fungos. I spent hours at the cage getting it perfect. Then he gave me a call and he was like ‘This is great, you’re on board.’”

Just like that, Baptista became the first female coaching intern in the Cape Cod League’s history.

Photo: Makayla Semiao

Baptista estimates she drove hundreds of miles and spent thousands on gas that summer driving back and forth from her hometown in Smithfield, Rhode Island, to the Cape. She did everything from throwing BP and hitting fungos to the “dirty work” like sweeping the dugouts at the end of the day, taking the trash out and doing field work.

She emphasized how much of an honor it was to learn from the coaches there every day, including Weinstein, Ron Polk and Don Sneddon.

“Three of the best coaches that I could have ever learned from and I wouldn't have traded that for anything,” Baptista said. "It was just an unbelievable experience and they respected me right off the bat. I learned so much.”

Working on the Cape led to a number of opportunities for Baptista, including coaching a charity baseball game for the Kelly Rodman Baseball Foundation at Fenway Park.

Photo: Kyle Prudhomme

So it’s no shock that participation in the Cape Cod League led to Baptista️️ being noticed by Rangers assistant director of player development Sam Niedorf. Baptista was an applicant for the club’s coach identification program and was selected to participate last fall. 

“Instructionally she did a phenomenal job [at the camp],” said Rangers farm director Josh Bonifay. “She was able to throw BP on the field; her instruction, her content and her knowledge was very good. Once Sam mentioned her name, we wanted to hire her. We thought she was a difference maker and could be a big part of our organization. I spent a lot of time with her on the telephone getting to know her processes, her information and content. We think she's an outstanding coach and will be a very good fit with the Texas Rangers.”

Photo: Meghan Murphy

Baptista may currently have the highest workload of the entire staff.

She will work remotely translating data and helping with various projects for the player development staff from Chapel Hill while she completes her sophomore year of college playing for UNC. At the conclusion of the college softball season, she’ll move to a more present role roving through the different Minor League levels of the organization.

This position with the Rangers brings Baptista one step closer to her ultimate goal of becoming an MLB manager one day.

“She plays softball, so she has the grit and the grind,” Bonifay said. “Her want to gain information and develop shows. She wants to know more about the game of baseball and when you have that kind of knowledge and you take the initiative to learn and gain, that's something that we value as an organization.”

“I think having women and having diverse people in the game of baseball is very good,” Bonifay added about the growing diversity in baseball. “Our players are not all from one area, they're not from one background. And I think it's outstanding and I think the game of baseball is growing and is going to continue to grow. And I think diversity is a big part of it, and I love it.”