Rachel Balkovec celebrates winning debut as manager of Yanks subsidiary

LAKELAND, Fla. – Cheered on by many fans who came just to see her make history, Rachel Balkovec debuted with a win Friday night as the first woman to run a branch of a major league baseball team.

Balkovec led the New York Yankees’ Class A Tampa Tarpons 9-6 over Lakeland.

“I’ve never heard my name like that,” she said. “It was so much fun. Again, I just look, it’s like seeing me sitting in the stands, whatever it was 15, 20 years ago, so it’s just really cool.”

In the post-game high-five line, Balkovec hugged each of their players and got the ball out of the final. She also provided some memorabilia – her jersey and cap were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Before the game, 34-year-old Balkovec signed several autographs, received a warm ovation at her introduction and posed for a photo on the home plate.

Then it was time to get to work. She had a game to referee.

However, many in the crowd felt the moment called for even more recognition.

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As she ran from the dugout to Coach first base before leading the second inning, a chant erupted at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“Let’s go, Rachel!”

It came from a group of girls when the Tarpons were playing the Flying Tigers in the Florida State League.

The Detroit Tigers Foundation — the Lakeland Club is an affiliate — donated tickets to female athletes at Polk County Schools, and 1,200 were distributed.

“They’re here in this moment and maybe they don’t even fully understand it now, but I’m obviously thinking in the future as they start their careers and maybe they’ll hit some walls that they’ll think about at this moment. ‘ said Balkovec.

“Oddly enough, I’ve always had a very strong vision, maybe not this one specifically, but I’ve always had a strong vision for my life and I knew I could make a really big impact in whatever area I find myself in.” She said. “I felt that from a young age.”

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Tampa broke a 4-all tie in the seventh inning after a grand slam from Anthony Garcia. The last of Balkovec’s five pitchers for the night ended the win.

The night ended with a planned fireworks display, and Balkovec spent about 20 minutes signing autographs for any remaining fans who wanted one.

“100%, I will never forget this game, ever,” said Jasson Dominguez, esteemed Yankees player and Tarpons midfielder.

Earlier in the day, Balkovec spoke about her trip at the Yankees’ compound at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Her parents were present when she spoke to reporters.

“It’s been 10 years of work to get to this point,” she said. “Things have evolved. I was blatantly discriminated against at the time. Some people say not to say it, but it’s just part of what happened and I think it’s important to say it because it shows you how much change has taken place.”

“So, blatant discrimination, that was 2010 and now here we are 12 years later and I’m sitting here at a press conference as a manager,” she said.

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Balkovec and the Tarpons made the 40-mile bus ride and arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes before game time.

Balkovec, dressed in the Yankees’ street gray pants and blue Tarpons jersey and hat, signed autographs along the right field line and next to Tampa’s third base shelter while planes from the nearby Sun ‘n’ Fun Aerospace Expo skimmed over them.

She was cheered on by the crowd during the on-field pregame introduction and shook hands with umpires Chris Argueza and Conor McKenna, as well as Flying Tigers manager Andrew Graham, during a lengthy card exchange and ground rules review.

After the foursome posed for a group photo, the Flying Tigers took to the field and history was made.

Balkovec broke several barriers on her way to position. She became the first woman to serve as a full-time strength and conditioning coach in the minor league, and then the first to serve as a full-time hitting coach in the minors with the Yankees.

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The Yankees announced their hiring as minor league manager in January.

Balkovec, a former softball catcher in Creighton and New Mexico, got her first professional baseball job with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 as a minor league strength and conditioning coach.

Balkovec joined the Houston Astros in 2016. She was hired as a Latin strength and conditioning coordinator and later was a strength and conditioning coach at Double-A Corpus Christi.

She joined the Yankees organization in 2019 as a minor league hitting coach.

Balkovec, who missed her managerial debut in spring training after being hit in the face by a batted ball during a practice session on March 22, arrived 10 minutes early for Friday’s media session.

“Overall, I’m very excited,” said Balkovec. “I’m excited because luckily at best I’d take on a role like this because I’ve had a lot of these players over the last year and I already know them.”

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“I’m looking forward to the night because of what’s going on, but also just excited for the season because it’s like these are my boys,” she said.

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https://www.local10.com/sports/2022/04/08/rachel-balkovec-cheered-in-debut-managing-yankees-affiliate/ Rachel Balkovec celebrates winning debut as manager of Yanks subsidiary

Joel McCord

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