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Yankees minor league manager Balkovec back after facial injury

2021 Sirius XM Futures Game

DENVER, CO - JULY 11: Hitting Coach Rachel Balkovec #9 of the American League Team looks on during the 2021 Sirius XM Futures Game at Coors Field on Sunday, July 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

MLB Photos via Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- Playfully wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football helmet, New York Yankees minor league manager Rachel Balkovec was back on the field Saturday.

Balkovec, hired as the first woman to manage a minor league affiliate of a major league team, was hit in the face by a batted ball during a drill March 22. The accident caused facial swelling.

The 34-year-old Balkovec took the field for the first inning to coach first base in a minor league intrasquad game. Her Bucs helmet was adorned with a Yankees logo.

“You don’t have a sense of humor, you’re not going to last very long out here,” Balkovec said with a laugh. “Our head clubhouse manager put this in my locker. The players said I should wear it. You’ve got give the people what they want.”

Balkovec’s injury caused her to miss her first scheduled spring training game two days later with Class A Tampa. She’s all set to manage her first regular-season game on April 8 at Lakeland.

“I’ve thought about it plenty,” Balkovec said. “Just trying, with as many distractions there will be, lock in what we’re trying to do on the field and what we have to prepare, and that’s it.”

Balkovec avoided a concussion in the accident but the swelling included the area around an eye. She was involved in a hitting drill in an indoor cage at the minor league complex when she was hurt.

“I’m just really grateful,” said Balkovec, who returned to the Yankees’ minor league complex Thursday. “I feel really lucky, and I’m really glad, obviously, I can start the season on time.”

Balkovec has broken several barriers on her way to the position. She was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first to be a full-time hitting coach in the minors with the Yankees.

The Yankees announced her hiring as a minor league manager in January.

Balkovec, a former softball catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, got her first job in professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor league strength and conditioning coach in 2012.

Balkovec joined the Houston Astros in 2016. She was hired as the Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator and later was the strength and conditioning coach at Double-A Corpus Christi.

She joined the Yankees organization as a minor league hitting coach in 2019.