Guest Highlight: Rachel Balkovec
I first met Coach Rachel Balkovec at Sorinex’s Summer Strong, an annual event for strength and conditioning training professionals. After the event, Coach Kax Kazadi at SMU recommended I get her on the Beyond Sets and Reps podcast. We had some difficulty getting something scheduled because she was living in the Netherlands at the time. But now, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we were able to finally get it recorded and it was worth the wait.
Rachel Balkovec is a hitting coach for the New York Yankees. In November 2019, she became the first woman hired to be a full-time hitting coach for a Major League Baseball team. Balkovec began her career in 2012 as a strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Johnson City, Tennessee, minor league affiliate. In that role, she won the Appalachian League’s award for strength coach of the year.
Coach Balkovec has had to overcome gender challenges. In 2013, she was waitressing and working at Lululemon, hoping to advance her coaching career, but after applying to 15 different teams in Phoenix and not hearing back, she changed her name on her resume and her email address from “Rachel” to “Rae”. Rather than emphasize she had been a Division I college softball catcher, she only said she had been a Division I college catcher. This led to phone interviews, but once people heard her voice, the only offers were for women’s sports, Balkovec says. One team, she says, told her they would never hire a woman.
In 2014, she assumed a full-time role as the Johnson City affiliate’s strength and conditioning coordinator, the first time a woman had held that role in baseball. In 2016, Baklovec was hired by the Houston Astros to be their Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator. She learned Spanish for the position, so she could better communicate with players. She was the first woman in that role in Major League Baseball. In 2018, she was promoted to be the Class AA Corpus Christi Hooks’ strength and conditioning coach.
After moving to the Netherlands to pursue a second master’s degree, Balkovec worked for the Dutch baseball and softball programs as an assistant hitting coach. After graduating, she returned to the United States to work at a fellowship at Driveling Baseball, researching hitters’ eye tracking and pitchers’ hip movement.
In November 2019, Balkovec was announced as the New York Yankees’ new hitting coach, to start in spring training 2020, again the first woman to hold such a position full-time. She also interviewed for a position as a quality control coach with the San Francisco Giants in fall 2019, but decided to take the Yankees’ role.