Nobody quite knows when Major League Baseball will return in 2020. With the coronavirus outbreak still keeping sports on lockdown, the start of the MLB season has been postponed until at least mid-May and perhaps longer. However, when the league does return, there will be a growing number of women around the game and it’s about time. For the past few years, the number of female coaches in the NFL and NBA has grown at a solid rate.
Since then-Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians brought in Jen Walter as a coaching intern in 2015, seven women have worked in the NFL as full-time assistants and another 15 have worked as coaching interns. This past January, Katie Sowers, an assistant offensive coach for the San Francisco 49ers, became the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl.
Approximately one-third of NBA teams have hired females as assistant coaches. Becky Hammon, who was the first woman to be hired as a full-time assistant by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, has interviewed for head coaching positions and it’s only a matter of time before she lands the big job.
But Major League Baseball has always been a little behind in the numbers but teams are catching on and the numbers are growing.
The Oakland A’s were the first team to hire a female instructor
In 2009, Justine Siegal became the first woman in history to be hired in men’s professional sports, when the independent Brockton Rox brought her in as a first-base coach. With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, Siegal made more history by becoming the first coach at the major-league level in 2015.
The Oakland A’s had brought in Siegal at one point to throw batting practice, making her the first woman to do so. In 2015, she was brought in as an instructor for Oakland’s instructional league team. Siegal was also a major part of MLB’s domestic violence training.
The New York Yankees hired the first female hitting coach
In November 2019, the New York Yankees made MLB history by hiring what’s believed to be the first female hitting coach, Rachel Balkovec. Balkovec comes to the Yankees with two Master’s degrees in human movement science and says she was largely ignored when applying for jobs, despite her softball experience and time at the minor-league level, where she’ll begin her career in the Gulf Coast League. One MLB organization, which she classily refused to name, even went as far as telling her they couldn’t hire her simply because she was a woman. She explained the 2013 incident to CBS News.
“And I was just shocked. First of all, that’s illegal. And he said, ‘Well, it gets worse,’ and I was like, how could this possibly get any worse? He said, you know, ‘I also called around to all the other people that I knew had positions open and they also said the same thing.'”Rachel Balkovec
After changing her name from Rachel to Rae on her applications, she began to get calls, eventually joining the St. Louis Cardinals as the first full-time strength coach. Balkovec will be the first female to don the famous Yankee pinstripes.
The Cubs hired a female hitting coach the same day
On the same day the Yankees hired Balkovec, the Chicago Cubs also hired a female hitting coach, Rachel Holden. Holden was a four-time All-American softball player at Marshall and played five years in the National Pro Fastpitch League, including catching a perfect game from Jennie Finch.
Holden ended her playing days and went into coaching. But she didn’t like the recruiting part of the college game and formed her own company, Folden Fastpitch, which focused on hitting instruction for young softball players. When word got around about how good her tools were, baseball players wanted to join in and Folden found herself in Chicago in 2017, joining Justin Stone’s Elite Baseball Training academy, helping players of both genders with their swings. Stone was hired by the Cubs last September, recommended Holden, and she was hired on November 22.
The Giants hired a female coach in January
In January 2020, the San Francisco Giants hired Alyssa Nakken as an assistant coach.
Nakken was a three-time all-conference selection and a four-time Academic All-American at Sacramento State, later earning her Master’s degree in sport management at the University of San Francisco. She first joined the Giants in 2014 as an intern in baseball operations and will assist the team in somewhat of a non-traditional role. The Giants say she will be in uniform for games and will “focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team.”
Major League Baseball is finally moving in the right direction. Let’s hope the trend continues.