League Leading. A franchise leading all of the Major Leagues in excellence through the years — Pennants, World Series titles, Hall of Famers — has now forged a lead of a different stripe. Following her 2019 debut as Yankee hitting coach, 34 year old Rachel Balkovec out of Omaha, NE has been named field manager — first ever for a Woman at any level of MLB play — of the organization’s Class A Tampa Tarpons. Their 120 game regular season gets underway with a Friday May 13 road game at the Dunedin Blue Jays, then the Tarpons hosting a Tuesday May 17 home opener when the St. Lucie Mets will occupy the opposing dugout. While the novelty remains fresh it seems likely that these and other games will capture extensive National media coverage.
Her Credentials. Balkovec was a three sport star at Omaha’s Skutt Catholic High School, going on to catch for the University of New Mexico Lobos softball team, from where she was graduated with a degree in Exercise Science. Beginning 2012 she was retained by several MLB clubs as strength and conditioning coach/coordinator, finding the time to learn Spanish so as to more effectively communicate with the game’s many players of Latin American origin. In 2018 Balkovec enrolled at Vrije University in the Netherlands to earn a second graduate degree. Her return to the U.S. was paved with a Fellowship at Driveline Baseball, where she undertook the intriguing study of a hitter’s eye tracking a pitched ball combined with a pitcher’s hip movements. Whatever exactly these experiences taught her were enough to impress both Yankee and San Francisco Giant managements, each franchise offering her full time roles. She accepted the Yankees proposal as hitting instructor for the Major League club. It is never possible to conclusively demonstrate cause and effect in matters such as this, but still noteworthy that the 2019 Yankee offense slashed .267/.339/.490, finishing in the Top 3 or 4 of all AL teams in all commonly cited hitting categories. Moreover, each slash total was 15 or 20 points higher than compiled the previous year.
Her Seasoned Approach. As are many, Balkovec is a seasoned veteran of human nature barriers thrust in the paths or various groups striving merely to achieve their optimistic hopes and dreams. She once altered her name on a job application to make it seem that of a Man, whereupon offers cascaded her way. None had been forthcoming when the same application was plainly the submission of a Woman. Her approach to coaching and managing in Tampa will focus on her skillful and inventive use of today’s technology in the analysis of ball player movements — often subtle — both at bat or on the field, pitching included. From a 2020 interview with Brian Kenny on MLB Now, we know that she well understands the close scrutiny to be constantly applied to her knowledge, passion and consistency. In all she has obviously earned the trust and confidence of the entire Yankee organization.
A Delayed Debut. As fate would have it, Rachel was in a practice session struck in the eye by an errant thrown or batted ball. While the impact left an unattractive bruise and facial swelling, it did not inflictsevere damage requiring extended down time. It did enough, however, that medics have advised her to take a pass on the first two or three Tarpon pre-season games. Please stay tuned.