Rachel Balkovec Discusses Billie Jean King Interaction After Being Hired by Yankees

Adam WellsJanuary 12, 2022

FILE - New York Yankees minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec speaks to reporters during the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Tuesday, 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, according to two people familiar with the move who spoke with The Associated Press, late Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

Rachel Balkovec, who was officially introduced as manager of the New York Yankees' Low-A affiliate on Wednesday, said she received a message from tennis icon Billie Jean King when news of her hiring was made public. 

Speaking to reporters, Balkovec said King's congratulatory message really meant a lot to her. 

"Okay, I can die now. My career's over," Balkovec joked. 

King is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and a trailblazer in the fight for gender equality and social justice. 

Per The Athletic's Lindsey Adler, Balkovec is the first female manager of an affiliated professional baseball team. 

The 34-year-old Balkovec has been working in Major League Baseball since 2012. She began her career as a temporary contract strength and conditioning coach with the Johnson City Cardinals, the former Appalachian League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The Cardinals named Balkovec Johnson City's full-time strength and conditioning coordinator in 2014. She later joined the Houston Astros organization, first as their Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator and eventually to the same position with their Double-A affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas. 

The Yankees hired Balkovec in November 2019 to serve as a roving minor-league hitting coach where she would travel to their various affiliates during the season. 

“It’s an easy answer to why we chose Rachel for this role,” Yankees hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson told the Lindsay Berra of the New York Times. “She’s a good hitting coach, and a good coach, period.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Balkovec was unable to coach Yankees affiliates in 2020. She took a job with the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League to coach during that season. 

Balkovec worked as the hitting instructor for the Yankees' rookie-level affiliate before getting hired as manager of the Tampa Tarpons. She was also part of the coaching staff for the 2021 All-Star Futures Game. 

The Tarpons are scheduled to open the 2022 regular season on April 8 against the Lakeland Flying Tigers.