TAMPA – Rachel Balkovec has come full circle.
Balkovec will wrap her second season as the Single-A Tampa manager in the New York Yankees' system this week. The Tarpons are closing the season at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, where on April 8 of last year she debuted with a win as the first woman to manage the affiliate of a Major League Baseball team.
“It’s been a whirlwind, yeah,” Balkovec said in the manager’s office at Steinbrenner Field that Yankees skipper Aaron Boone uses during spring training. “It’s gone slow at times, and it’s just flown by, you know.”
Balkovec broke 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 feel like everyday I’m learning something about the game,” Balkovec said. “But I’ve heard managers of 20 years say that same thing. There’s just always a play that comes up that (I haven’t seen before). I feel like that’s going to be a continual progress.”
The past two years have been more than learning new things, but also reinforcing previous lessons learned about leadership.
"I had somebody ask me at the beginning of the year if I’m a player’s manager, and I thought for a second and I said ‘No, I’m not,'" Balkovec said. “I think that my job at the lower levels is to really keep these guys accountable and keep them looking at what they can do to getter better, and not taking their side as much.”
“I’ve learned that, I already knew it, but I think even more so this year, just relentless accountability for the guys is really the best thing for them,” she added. "Never feels good in the moment, probably not for me or for them. I don’t like to always be (the) bad cop, but I think it’s just what they might thank me for 10 years from now.”
And it hasn’t changed her desire to one day become a general manager.
“It is really good experience for it,” Balkovec said about managing. “You just have a much broader view than just being one type of coach, one specific position coach.”
Tampa's season ends Sunday, and like most minor league managers, coaches and players, Balkovec doesn't know what her assignment will be next season. In the meantime, she's planning to take a beat and reflect on all that has gone over the last two years.
“It’s kind of full circle, and I’ll feel emotional about that I’m sure,” Balkovec said.
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