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Rachel Balkovec has broken a few glass ceilings in baseball — and she's not done yet

Coach Rachel Balkovec tips her hat as she is announced as a coach before a game between the National League Futures Team and the American League Futures Team at Coors Field last July.
Dustin Bradford
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Getty Images
Coach Rachel Balkovec tips her hat as she is announced as a coach before a game between the National League Futures Team and the American League Futures Team at Coors Field last July.

There's a glass ceiling in baseball that women have been shattering for a few years now. Among those making moves is Rachel Balkovec, who just became the first woman manager of the Tampa Tarpons and the first woman ever to reach that level.

"It's a privilege to be at the front of something. And you know, there's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of other things that come with that that aren't really desirable. But I signed up for it, and I'm not going to shy away," Balkovec said. "It was wildly important for me to have visible ideas of what was possible when I was coming up. And so for me to do that for somebody else is an honor, and it's a responsibility that I'm happy to have."

Balkovec is no stranger to breaking boundaries in Major League Baseball. In 2019, she was named hitting instructor for the Tarpons, which is a minor league team affiliated with the New York Yankees.

But making those moves and history did not come without challenges. At one point, Balkovec said she changed her name from "Rachel" to "Ray" on her resumes when she wasn't getting calls back because she is a woman.

"I was so desperate that I thought, well, maybe if I get an interview, I'll just prove wrong and they'll love me," Balkovec said. "That just shows the level of desperation that I was in just to get a look – like literally just to get a phone call. And my resume was phenomenal at the time for a young coach, and I just was not getting anything."

In 2019, Balkovec was named hitting instructor for the Tampa Tarpons, which is a minor league team affiliated with the New York Yankees.
Gregory Bull / AP
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AP
In 2019, Balkovec was named hitting instructor for the Tampa Tarpons, which is a minor league team affiliated with the New York Yankees.

That changed in 2013 when the St. Louis Cardinals called Balkovec to interview for a coordinator position. The team knew her work from when she interned with them and wanted her to oversee 10 male strength coaches and 200 athletes.

Balkovec credits that position with the Cardinals with getting her fully in the door of the MLB and giving her legitimacy.

"I think it's easy to forget now that 10 years ago there weren't nutritionists, there weren't mental skills coaches, there weren't analysts walking around. And so opportunities for women to be in those roles just weren't there," Balkovec said. "I don't even remember seeing another woman across the field until 2018, which was six years into my career."

Balkovec is proud of the success she has had, but she's not done yet. She wants to continue to be a leader and help make larger changes from the top.

"Long term, my goal is to be a general manager down the road, of course. And so this is only going to help me personally," Balkovec said. "And also the organization had a need for it, and they thought I'd be a right fit. But ... for me, it's a part of a larger plan to be in the front office at some point."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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