Two female coaches make history during Arizona Fall League season
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Some of the best young prospects in baseball spend October and parts of November in the Valley to play in the Arizona Fall League. The young players extend their season for several weeks to work on their craft and hopefully make an impression on their teams so they can jump to the majors next season.
The players on the field aren’t the only ones trying to jump to the big leagues. Coaches are also trying to work their way up.
Bianca Smith became the first-ever black female coach hired by a Major League Baseball team in 2021. She coached for the Red Sox Florida Complex League team last year, the lowest level of the minor leagues. The Sox sent her to coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions this past season. “I’ve loved it, not just getting to work with our guys but getting to work with other players and learning from other coaches and organizations. It’s been an awesome experience. It was coaching development for me,” says Smith.
Smith coached first base for the Scorpions. She was on the field during games, coaching players as they rounded the bases. She was the only woman on the field when her team was hitting. “That was probably the first thing the manager asked me. Can you coach first base? I was like, yes I want to. Good luck getting me not to coach first base.”
When the Scorpions took on the Salt River Rafters, Smith wasn’t the only woman on the field. Diamondbacks Minor League Coach Ronnie Gajownik was in the opposing dugout. “To learn from them has been an eye-opening experience. It’s just making me better and helping other people get better as well,” said Gajownik.
Gajownik coached for the Amarillo Sod Poodles last season and joined the Rafters this fall. She has coached first base but is also coaching from the dugout during some games. Gajownik says coaching first is awesome. “It’s cool being on the field. It’s fun because it’s the closest you can be to being in-between the lines.”
Unless the Rafters were playing the Scorpions, Gajownik was the only woman on the diamond. However, she says it’s not a problem being the only female. “I just have longer hair then some of the, although some of them might have a little longer hair than me.”
Smith also said it’s not a problem being a female coach on a roster full of men. “Guys don’t care. They think its awesome. I actually had one player come up and took a picture with me the first day because he thought it was really cool. Other than that, guys don’t care at all. I’m another one of the coaches and that’s how they treat me.”
This past season was the first where two teams playing each other had a female coach. Gajownik and Smith say they are happy to see more women becoming part of a male-dominated sport, but more progress will come.
“It’s just cool being around those alpha females and see how badass they are in what they’re doing,” Gajownik said. “If my dad took me out of school and took me to a game and I saw a female on the field, I’d wonder how did she get there? Its cool to say I have that visibility cause when you can see something, you know you can be there.”
Smith says more women are joining the coaching ranks in the minors. There are 11 women right now. “That’s a pretty big deal and something we should recognize. “I come out of the dugout maybe 15 to 20 minutes before game time just sitting looking out. Wow, I’m really here.”
Smith wants to move up through the system and coach for a minor league team closer to the majors next season. Gajownik said she wants to coach and be happy while improving herself and other players. They will decide on their future position during the winter before spring training begins in February.
The fall league ended last weekend. The action will return next October across the Valley.
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