When she was looking for a full-time job, the Cardinals remembered her skills and gave her a chance.
Balkovec, who was a catcher on the softball teams at Creighton University and New Mexico, earned a master’s degree in kinesiology from Louisiana State University in 2012. She left the Astros in the fall of 2018 to pursue her second master’s degree, in human movement sciences at Vrije University in the Netherlands, which has done advanced research in eye tracking in cricket and baseball, an area of great interest to Balkovec. While in the Netherlands, she also served as an assistant hitting coach for the country’s baseball and softball programs.
“I knew my passion was shifting from solely strength and conditioning to a more global view of the game, and I wanted to be able to have a bigger impact on player development by helping them get better from a scientific perspective,” Balkovec said. “It’s obvious the direction in which the game is headed, and I knew getting a better grasp of the research and analytics side of things would only be beneficial for my future in baseball.”
Balkovec has been working at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven performance training center in Washington State, since August, finishing her research on eye tracking for hitters and hip movement for pitchers. She is hoping to apply the research in her job with the Yankees.
“During the interview process, I was blown away by the Yankees hitting staff,” she said. “They are making aggressive operational changes to compete in the rapidly changing landscape of player development.”
And Lawson said he never gave a second thought to the fact that Balkovec is a woman.
“If you played in the big leagues for 30 years and become a coach, you’re immediately trustworthy and legitimate, but when you come from a different background, it takes more time,” Lawson said. “When you work with Rachel as a player or a coach, it’s clearly apparent that her investment in you and in her expertise in the field is only going to make you better. It may be initially different because she’s a woman, but you quickly realize that she is simply an elite coach and you see her for that.”
Lindsay Berra is a freelance sports journalist who has written for ESPN Magazine and MLB.com and is the granddaughter of Yogi and Carmen Berra.