Rachel Balkovec, the first woman to manage an MLB affiliated team, took home a victory for the Tampa Tarpons on Friday.
Balkovec, 34, has broken glass ceiling after glass ceiling. She was the first woman to be a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, and later, she became the first woman to serve as a full-time hitting coach in the minor leagues.
On Friday, when the New York Yankees-affiliated Tarpons matched up against the Lakeland Flying Tigers — which are affiliated with the Detroit Tigers — crowds cheered her name. Balkovec’s Tarpons defeated the Flying Tigers 9-6.
“I’ve never heard my name chanted like that,” Balkovec said, according to The Associated Press. “It was so much fun. Again, I just see, it’s like I see me sitting in the stands, whatever 15, 20 years ago, and so it’s just really cool.”
Before she got her start in professional baseball, Balkovec played college softball. In January, she told NPR that she’s not much of a baseball fan, which might be “jarring to a few people’s ears.” It was the minor league system, instead, that fascinated her.
When she was a strength and conditioning coach at Louisiana State University, she remembers hearing players talk about the minors.
“Their stories of the minor league experiences and eating hot dogs before the games and training in YMCAs in random towns in the country,” Balkovec began. “And I just thought, ‘Wow.’ Like, I had no idea, even as a college softball player, the extensive, incredibly long and twisting journey that these athletes go through.”
Fireworks and an autograph session marked the end of Friday night’s game in Lakeland, Fla.
“Strangely, it’s like I’ve always had a very strong vision, not specifically this maybe, but I’ve always had a strong vision for my life and understood I could make a really huge impact no matter area I’m in,” Balkovec said.