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Tomase: Bianca Smith a true trailblazer, on and off the field

/ by John Tomase
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Charles Barkley once famously told the world he wasn't a role model.

Bianca Smith does not share that view.

The newest member of the Red Sox minor league coaching staff is well aware that as a Black woman in an overwhelmingly male field, she's a trailblazer on multiple fronts. And she embraces it.

"I didn't see myself a role model before this," she said via Zoom. "I'm recognizing that people are inspired by this story. I've had people reach out and say that I am now their role model, and it's still kind of weird to think about, to be honest, since it really wasn't my intention when I took the job.

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"But I'm happy if my story can inspire other women, other women of color, other people of color -- really, anybody, I don't want to put limits on it. If anybody is inspired by this story, even better."

That Smith would break barriers by becoming the first Black female coach in baseball shouldn't be a surprise based on her naturally high-achieving personality. A Dartmouth grad who intended to follow her dreams of becoming a veterinarian, she instead changed course during college, eventually earning a JD and MBA from Case Western in 2017, where she also worked as director of baseball operations. If the college softball player had a future in pro baseball, it seemed to be in the front office.

 

By that point, however, she had already begun coaching, and she was hooked. She got her most hands-on experience as an assistant coach and hitting coordinator with Carroll University in Wisconsin, a job she took after an internship with the Rangers and during one with the Reds.

At Carroll, she excelled not only as an instructor, but as an interpreter of biomechanics and advanced metrics, knowledge that put her on the radar of the Red Sox, who hired her after a whirlwind interview process that started in mid-November. She might've considered a career as a pro coach sooner, but representation matters.

"I'd never seen another Black woman coaching, especially in baseball," she said. "So it just never crossed my mind that that might be an opportunity, it was always people in the front office, so my initial goal was general manager. And it was the same mindset that I wanted to have an impact with the roster on the field, that's why I wanted to go into the baseball ops side rather than business ops. So I should have known coaching then but it didn't really click.

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"And even when I went to grad school, I knew I loved being on field. I loved helping with our players, I loved going to practice, and we'd have 5 o'clock practice and I'd have no problem. I lived a mile away from campus and didn't have a car and I'd walk down in the middle of January when it was really snowy at 4:30 in the morning and loved it. And I think the reason why I didn't pursue coaching a little bit earlier is the expectation that I had a law and a business degree. Everybody thought I was going to be a GM. I still have family members who say, 'Great, this is your first step to being a GM,' and I'm thinking I still just want to coach."

Spring training is scheduled to begin in February, and the 29-year-old Smith will be there to work with the organization's minor-league hitters. She just wants to soak up as much knowledge as she can while proving herself in a competitive field.

And even though she never set out to be a role model, she's not running from the responsibility now.

"A lot of kids, they get their idea of what they want to do based on who they see doing it," she said. "So I'm hoping besides obviously focusing on my job, developing players as much as I can, if the result of this position is also that more women, more people in general are inspired to consider this as a position, or at least try to get in the game, get more interest, that would be great. But I think what's going to be the first step is just letting them have the idea that this is a potential career path for them."