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Yankees make history after hiring first the female manager in the minor leagues

Rachel Balkovic smiling
Gregory Bull
New York Yankees minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec speaks to reporters during the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Dec. 10, 2019, in San Diego. The New York Yankees are promoting Balkovec to manager at Low A Tampa, making her the first woman to skipper a team affiliated with Major League Baseball.

The New York Yankees named Rachel Balkovec as the manager of one of their minor league affiliates — making her the first woman to break into the managerial ranks at that level.

The Tampa Tarpons will have the first female manager of a major-league baseball affiliate.

The New York Yankees officially introduced Rachel Balkovic as manager of their Low-A team in the Florida State League.

In taking over the Tarpons, Balkovec will become the first female manager in the history of affiliated baseball, an appointment 10 years in the making for the former college softball player.

Balkovec said her story is “the American dream," and that she's excited to take charge of the clubhouse.

Speaking to reporters on a Zoom call yesterday [Wednesday], Balkovic recounted how she faced discrimination as a woman trying to break into a career in baseball.

She even changed her name to Rachel to Rae in order to interview for jobs.

"Honestly it was pretty short-lived that I changed my name because at the end of the day, you just have to look yourself in the mirror and be like, well, you know, if they don't want to hire me because I'm a woman, I probably don't want to work for those people," Balkovec said. "And if this takes years, then it takes years. And I was willing to wait."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says “the sky’s the limit" for the 34-year-old Balkovec, who has two master's degrees and hopes to one day become a general manager herself.

Balkovec has been in professional baseball for 10 years, first as a strength and conditioning coach and more recently as hitting coach for the Yankees in the rookie-level Florida Complex League.

Before working in professional baseball, Balkovec was a catcher for softball teams at Creighton University and the University of New Mexico.

In 2018, she pursued a second master's degree in human movement sciences at Vrije University in the Netherlands. While abroad, she worked with the country's national softball and baseball teams. She has also worked for Driveline Baseball, a data-driven baseball center.

The Tarpons begin play in April.

Information from NPR and WUSF staff contributed to this report.

Profile shot of Rachel Balkovic sitting down
Gregory Bull
New York Yankees minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec speaks to reporters during the Major League Baseball winter meetings on Dec. 10, 2019, in San Diego. Balkovec was introduced Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, as manager of the Tampa Tarpons, the New York Yankees’ Low A affiliate in the Florida State League.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.