It’s probably too early to call it a new era, but with names like Rachel Balkovec and Genevieve Beacom making the headlines, America’s pastime is definitely due for a change-up. Earlier this week, Balkovec was hired as the new manager of the Yankees’ minor league affiliate the Tampa Tarpons. This hire made history, as Balkovec is the first woman to ever hold a manager position in either major or minor league affiliated baseball.
Balkovec has been coaching professional baseball for 10 years, and has spent the last two as a hitting coach with the Yankees organization. She was promoted to this new role for her talents and her qualifications, both of which the Yankees higher-ups have raved about. There’s no doubt about that, and discussions of her gender should certainly not erase her achievements in the sport. But for someone who started out her career changing her name to become gender-neutral so that she could get interviews in a sport that had all but shut out women, this is really a groundbreaking moment for women in baseball.
Across the globe, 17-year-old Beacom has become the first woman to play professionally in the Australian Baseball League. Beacom, a left-handed pitcher who stands at 6-foot-2, is a high school student, her age perhaps even more notable than her gender. She’s casually making history as she expresses her hopes to play college ball in the United States — despite an academic advisor telling her that “there’s no baseball scholarships for girls,” only softball scholarships. But the times are changing — 2020 saw the first ever female catcher in the NCAA, joined by a handful of other women playing baseball at the collegiate level.
There isn’t a real professional equivalent to baseball for women in the way that there is for basketball, golf, tennis, or soccer. Girls interested in the sport are frequently pushed toward softball teams, and if they want to play baseball, they have to deal with being part of the boys’ club. This pushes them out of coaching and training job opportunities, as well, as many teams lean toward hiring those with in-game experience. Although there have been managers of major league teams who never played ball (the Cubs’ curse-breaking Joe Maddon comes to mind), it’s not common, and is obviously even less common to hire women who likely never had much of a chance to play.
But Balkovec is joined by ten other women in on-field roles throughout major and minor league baseball this year — eight of whom were brought on in 2021 or later. Small though it may seem, there’s a shift that’s allowing these opportunities for women to open up, and not to get too cliche about it, but this is a chance for young girls to see that coaching or playing a sport that they love is a real possibility for their futures.