An LSU graduate is making history with one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, the New York Yankees.
Rachel Balkovec, who earned her master’s degree from LSU in sport administration in 2012 is in her first season as a full-time hitting coach.
“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?!’,” Balkovec said in a news release from the University. “Just to think of what type of journey and different ways my career has taken me is crazy.”
Balkovec, a former catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, is the first female full-time MLB coach and said LSU had a “huge impact” on that crazy journey.
“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.
While in Baton Rouge, Balkovec worked for LSU athletics assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Melissa Moore Seal. Seal said that Balkovec displayed all the qualities to succeed in baseball and wasn’t surprised she’s found a spot with a Major league team.
“At the time, there were very few, if any, females that were strength and conditioning coaches for baseball,” Seal said in the news release. “But I knew she had the knowledge and the talent to coach with that particular group.
“As soon as there was an opportunity for Rachel to volunteer for LSU baseball, I wanted her to do that and helped to make that connection for her. When opportunities were available, I made sure she was one of the first that I would recommend – not because of her gender, or anything else, but because she had expertise and is a naturally talented coach.”
Balkovec’s journey to the Yankee’s was not an easy one. She said she faced gender discrimination among other challenges as she navigated a career in baseball.
“Early on in my career it was kind of a necessity because of my gender,” she said. “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.
After graduating from LSU, Balkovec she interned for the St. Louis Cardinals. She spent a year out of the sports before landing an internship with the Chicago White Sox, followed by a second stint with the Cardinals as the franchise’s minor league strength and conditioning coordinator.
She then spent three years with the Houston Astros as their Latin America strength and conditioning coordinator, and their double-A strength and conditioning coach before returning to school and completing another degree. She was hired by the Yankee’s late in 2019.
“It’s been quite a journey, a little bit different, but I wouldn’t take any of it back,” Balkovec said.
Her first season with the team has gotten off to a strange start as Major League Baseball, like all other major sports leagues, has suspended activities due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Balkovec has spent the downtime raising money for charities with the goal of helping those affected by the pandemic. She’s donated $5 a day GoFundMe website which has raised more than $4,600 dollars so far..
“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.