NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Yankees are promoting Omaha native Rachel Balkovec to manager of the Low A Tampa Tarpons, making her the first woman to skipper a team affiliated with Major League Baseball, according to two people familiar with the move.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday night on condition of anonymity because the club hadn't announced the promotion.
The 34-year-old Balkovec joined the Yankees organization as a hitting coach in 2019, making her the first woman with that job full-time in affiliated baseball. She got her first position in pro ball with the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor league strength and conditioning coach in 2012.
Balkovec, who graduated from Omaha Skutt and was then a softball catcher at Creighton University and the University of New Mexico, moved from the Cardinals to the Houston Astros in 2016. She was hired as the Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator, a position for which she learned Spanish, and later became the strength and conditioning coach at Double-A Corpus Christi.
She briefly left baseball in 2018 to pursue a second master's degree at Vrije University in the Netherlands, where she also worked with the country's national baseball and softball teams. She then worked for Driveline Baseball, a data-driven baseball center that has trained numerous major leaguers, before being hired by New York.
“I view my path as an advantage,” she told The Associated Press in 2019. “I had to do probably much more than maybe a male counterpart, but I like that because I’m so much more prepared for the challenges that I might encounter.”
Balkovec detailed her coaching journey in a story for The World-Herald in 2020 after she'd joined the Yankees' organization.
She grew up in Omaha dreaming of being an NFL player, then she eventually helped lead Skutt to the state softball tournament. She went on to Creighton, where the yips nearly derailed her softball career.
“One of the darkest times of my life,” Balkovec said.
She transferred to New Mexico to continue playing softball, but she developed a passion for strength and conditioning.
Her résumé grew more impressive with every stop. Bachelor’s degree in exercise science. Master’s degree in kinesiology. Multiple strength and conditioning internships. She received many offers to work in women's college sports.
But she wanted to work in professional baseball.
“My eyes were opened to this huge onion that is professional baseball, and I was so fascinated by their journey,” she said.
Her big break came when the St. Louis Cardinals offered a job, and she continued to work her way up from there until she landed with the Yankees in 2020 and blazed a new trail.
Now she's breaking another barrier as a minor league manager.