LSU grad becomes first female MLB hitting coach

New York Yankees minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec | Source: AP Photo / Gregory Bull
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - LSU graduate Rachel Balkovec has become the first-ever female full-time hitting coach in Major League Baseball (MLB).

COVID-19 has the MLB season and Balkovec’s coaching duties on hold but she is using the extra time to help others.

“I’ve been in worse situations than I’ve been in now, and there are a lot of people who are struggling,” Balkovec said.

The Omaha, Neb. native earned her Master’s Degree in Sports Administration from LSU back in 2012.

“LSU had a huge impact on me. Starting out my career in LSU athletics really taught me what high-level athletics is about, and what high standards are about in regards to performance,” Balkovec said.

Balkovec was coaching during spring training of her first season with the New York Yankees in Tampa, Fla. when the start of the season was delayed because of the coronavirus.

Rather than focus on only herself during this time, Balkovec decided to donate $5 a day to help people in need.

“It feels like a drop in the bucket,” Balkovec said. “I think sometimes we allow the problems in our lives, not just the coronavirus, to feel so big it just freezes us and we don’t do anything. Instead of not doing anything, I just wanted to do something that hopefully inspires others.”

She has also started a GoFundMe account which has raised more than $4,000.

“People are offering up advice and recommendations for which groups to help. So far, it’s been a couple of food banks. We’ve purchased medical supplies. This week, I’m donating to an organization that supports minor league baseball players,” she said.

Balkovec’s baseball career started off in the minors. After graduating from LSU she took an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I was with one of their rookie league teams as a strength and conditioning coach. When it ended, I moved to the Dominican Republic and worked with a winter baseball team,” Balkovec said.

After her year with the Cardinals was up she spent a year away from baseball looking for work. Balkovec soon found her way back to baseball by taking an internship with the Chicago White Sox’s, which then lead to her second job with the St. Louis Cardinals. She served as the Cardinals’ minor league strength and conditioning coordinator for two years.

“I was overseeing 250 athletes and 10 male strength coaches – that was one my biggest breaks in my career,” she said.

That was followed by three years with the Houston Astros as their Latin America strength and conditioning coordinator, and their double-A strength and conditioning coach.

“Then I quit at the end of 2018 and went back to school, this time to Amsterdam for a year and completed my research for that degree in Seattle. Then I was hired by the New York Yankees as a minor league hitting coach. It’s been quite a journey, a little bit different, but I wouldn’t take any of it back,” Balkovec said.

According to Balkovec, she faced gender discrimination along the way which encouraged her to work harder.

“Early on in my career it was kind of a necessity because of my gender. Understanding I was going to have to do a little bit more than others, which I’m fine with. It wasn’t always fun but I look back and I’m grateful that I did have to go above and beyond because I’m better for it now obviously,” Balkovec said.

Even though Balkovec is MLB’s first full-time female coach, she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer.

“I’m not a pioneer. There are plenty of people who came before me, I always like to acknowledge that,” Balkovec said. “There were plenty of other women who set the stage for me to be able to have this opportunity before me. Like my own boss when I was at LSU, Melissa Moore Seal. When she got into strength and conditioning more than ten years ago, there were very few females doing it.”

Melissa Moore Seal, the assistant strength and conditioning coordinator for LSU Athletics, said she knew Balkovec would be successful.

It was evident that she was a talented coach and I definitely knew she had the qualities to be first. She always had a passion for baseball as a sport, she really enjoyed it,” Seal said.

Balkovec also works to help others prepare for their careers, through a program she started called the Virtual Handshake Academy.

“If you would have told me when I was at LSU that I would be a hitting coach for the New York Yankees one day, I would have said ‘What?!’ Just to think of what type of journey and different ways my career has taken me is crazy,” Balkovec said.

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