Balkovec says support from players, staff has been great

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TAMPA, Fla.- Rachel Balkovec is teaching at the New York Yankees minor league minicamp and is a student, too.

Balkovec became the first woman hired to manage a minor league affiliate of a Major League Baseball team when she was promoted last month by the Yankees to dugout boss of the Low A Tampa Tarpons.

The 34-year-old has smashed several barriers on her way to the position. She was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first to be a full-time hitting coach in the minors with the Yankees.

“I’m grateful for this time to practice,” Balkovec said after Wednesday’s workout. “These guys are here to prepare, and I’m also here studying every morning watching video and learning aspects of defense. Learning our philosophies inside and out on defense.”

Balkovec was involved with live batting practice, and worked with hitters like prospect Jasson Dominguez.

“It’s just a little bit of everything right now,” Balkovec said. “Kind of catching up on the defensive end of things and still spending some time in the cages with hitting and still keeping my foot there. So it’s really all over the map right now.”

Balkovec will run the clubhouse in Tampa, charged with overseeing the development of future big leaguers for the Yankees. She said the support from players and staff has been great.

“The players calling me `Skip’ and everything, kind of razzing me a little bit, but it’s been extremely well-received and it feels really natural to be honest with you,” Balkovec said. “Getting the opportunity to set a standard is always a privilege and it’s something that I’ve done my whole life, wanted to do my whole life and this role is just a little more of that.”

“In a good way it feels something that’s even more natural to me than being a hitting coach,” Balkovec added.

Balkovec stood nearby to support Dominguez when he did an interview mostly in English, a language he is learning.

“Something I’m really passionate about is helping these guys off the field and that’s something that I do all time,” Balkovec said.

A former softball catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec has a master’s degree in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement sciences from Vrije University in the Netherlands. She’s worked in strength and conditioning with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros since first breaking into pro ball in 2012, and also spent time at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven center that has trained numerous major leaguers.

Balkovec is scheduled to manage her first regular-season game on Apr. 8 at the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

TOGETHER IN TAMPA?

Yankees senior director of player development Kevin Reese said it hasn’t been determined where Dominguez will start the season but Tampa seems likely.

Dominguez, who received a $5.1 million signing bonus in 2019, hit .252 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 56 games between rookie-level FCL and Tampa in 2021 during his first pro season.