Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Women In Baseball Week - Part 2

As we continue to look at women who are dominating on the diamond and racking up the points on the ice this week, the woman to the left needs to be mentioned. That's New York Yankees hitting coach Rachel Balkovec, and she was hired by the Bronx Bombers in late 2019 thanks to her work at LSU and her softball and baseball backgrounds. Balkovec interned with a few different Major League Baseball clubs in various capacities before the Yankees stepped up and offered her a shot at showing the guys how to hit after her work at LSU with the men's baseball team.

Balkovic, who played catcher for Creighton and New Mexico in her NCAA career, worked for LSU athletics assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Melissa Moore Seal on how to improve her own strength and conditioning to really up her game. Seal recognized Balkovic's potential while working with her, enabling Balkovic to work with the men's baseball team. While there was some initial gender discrimination to overcome, Balkovic didn't let it discourage her.

Through her work with baseball and softball and with her master's degree from LSU in sport administration, Balkovic interned with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox before coming back to the Cardinals as their minor-league strength and conditioning coordinator. Following that stint, she moved to the Houston Astros for three years where she worked at various minor-league levels as a strength and conditioning coordinator. Following her completion of another degree at school, the Yankees signed the free agent to be their coach!

Why am I spending a lot of time talking about Balkovic in her roles as a strength and conditioning coordinator and a hitting coach? Besides it being pretty awesome, the player featured today could likely follow in Balkovic's footsteps one say if she chooses.

The next woman is someone I've featured on this blog for her baseball talents on a couple of occasions already while her work on the ice got her a pile more mentions last season. I'm talking about Madison Willan of the Alberta Pandas who lit up Canada West netminders as a rookie this season en route to winning both the Canada West and the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year awards on the strength of her 11-goal, 14-assist season that showcased her strong play at both ends of the ice. She's showed all sorts of talent and speed last season in her rookie campaign with the Pandas, and it's likely head coach Howie Draper will lean on her for the remainder of her U SPORTS career with the skills she showed in her freshman year. And let's not forget the back-to-back Esso Cups she won with the St. Albert Slash!

Madison's been playing baseball since she was five years-old as a member of Confederation Park Little League, and it shows as she's an incredible hitter and infielder. She joined the Canadian National Women's Baseball Team in 2017, and just decided to go make history when she became the first player in women's national team history to hit a home run during game play when she launched a three-run dinger at the Washington Nationals Youth Academy in 2017!

Down at the 2019 COPABE World Cup qualifying tournament in Aguascalientes, Mexico where Canada was trying to secure a spot at the 2020 Women's Baseball World Cup, Willan made an impact once again as she bombed another three-run home run over the fence as part of an 11-1 drubbing of Mexico to help Canada earn the bronze medal in the tournament, and, more importantly, a spot in the 2020 Women's Baseball World Cup!

While we're still waiting to see whether or not the tournament will happen from November 12-21 in Tijuana, Mexico after it was rescheduled from September in Monterrey, Mexico, the good news is that Willan won't miss any Canada West hockey games due to the pandemic cancelling all games over the fall half of the schedule. Of course, with the University of Alberta announcing that they're not participating in any Canada West sports this season, it might give Willan a little more time to work on her swing if she so chooses!

Regardless of how you cut it, Madison Willan is as talented on the ice as she is on the diamond. No, I didn't reverse those two sports. With the way she plays baseball, she could be the next hitting coach for a Major League Baseball team with the bat she carries just as Rachel Balkovic is doing! How cool would that be?

We have one more player to highlight who plays ball as well as she plays puck, and we'll do that on Friday after The Hockey Show jumps into the mix on Thursday!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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