Astros executive who hired Rachel Balkovec says her skill set was always there

NEW YORK (KTRK) -- This week, Rachel Balkovec made history as the first-ever female manager in affiliated baseball after she was hired to manage the Low-A Tampa Tarpons under the New York Yankees organization. However, her career took her through the Houston Astros organization.

Balkovec is a former college softball player who landed multiple internships in professional baseball and attended graduate school for two masters degrees in sport administration and biomechanics. She also learned Spanish because she had no prior experience with the language growing up in Nebraska.

Allen Rowin, the director of minor league operations for the Astros in 2016, hired Balkovec to work in the Dominican Republic as the club's Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator.

"You could look in the weight room and not tell the difference from her and other strength coaches. She just happened to have a ponytail," Rowin told ABC13. "She was doing the same mechanics, using the same plan as everybody else. She blended in with the guys, throwing with rehab assignments, running, stretching. No difference."

Rowin revealed Balkovec interviewed for the same position with Houston in 2015, but did not get the job.

"During the interview process, we actually said no," Allen recalled. "It wasn't her knowledge of strength conditioning. There was nothing with her being female. She didn't speak Spanish. We needed someone fluent in Spanish for the role, so I told her I just wasn't comfortable hiring her to be a Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator if you don't speak Spanish. She understood, took it and went out and learned enough Spanish to get the job a year later."

On Wednesday, Balkovec revealed that for a short time in the early 2010s she changed the name on her resume and job applications from Rachel to Rae. The plan, an idea courtesy of her sister, worked to garner more interest from organizations because it wasn't abundantly clear a woman was applying for the role.

"I don't think anybody ever doubted her," Rowin recalled of the organization's discussions to hire her in 2016. "I think some of it was figuring out if we were comfortable hiring a female to go to the Dominican Republic on her own."

"You and I don't face the same concerns that she might face going in another country," Rowin said. "So those concerns had to be worked through. We also had to make sure she was comfortable with it, and that we found a spot in our spring training facility for her to change and feel comfortable in the shower afterwards in a facility originally constructed for all men. These were logistics we had to work through, but her skill set was always there. These were small things you can fix and change."

Rowin said he won't take credit for the hire because it was a group effort.

"She came highly recommended, and I just happened to sit in the chair and be part of vetting her. I was comfortable with it, and I'm glad to see where she's at now," he said.
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