When spring training begins next month, Bianca Smith will make history as the first Black woman to coach professional baseball.
After she wraps up her job as assistant coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University in Wisconsin, she’ll start with the Boston Red Sox minor league system in Fort Myers, Florida.
"I'd never seen another Black woman coaching, especially in baseball," she told WBUR’s Khari Thompson. "So it just never crossed my mind that that might be an opportunity."
Smith’s impressive resume — on top of her own baseball and softball experience plus a degree in sports law and management from Dartmouth College — includes serving as Case Western Reserve University's director of baseball operations. She’s seen the inner workings of MLB teams through her operation internships with the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds.
Coaching players to be the successful hitters is both about the physical mechanics of having a hard swing and solid approach at the plate, but also owning the mental gymnastics of seeing a high-speed ball thrown at you, she tells Here & Now.
Smith, who is viewed as a trailblazer in a sport predominantly run and played by men, gives credit to the women before her “who set the stage” for her career opportunities.
“The idea that I'm a trailblazer is certainly not one I thought of,” she says. “But I mean, if that means more girls, more women are more interested in this game and might want to consider coaching as an opportunity, then even better for it.”
The players she coaches now treat her like they would any coach, she says. Respect is mutual, she says, and their uniting goal to get the job done is first and foremost.
Some have doubted her abilities. In high school, she recalls when a coach jokingly said he’d hire her to make sandwiches for the team. “This was after I listed all of my responsibilities and my qualifications,” she says.
When someone at Carroll University discovered Smith was the hitting coach, she says “their first response was, ‘Oh, well that team’s going to lose.’ ”
But the skeptics had nothing on the support from people who had her back and the players who trust her.
“What other people say like that doesn't really affect how I do my job,” she says.
Kim Ng, the Miami Marlins' new general manager, recently became the first woman general manager in MLB history. Smith says it goes to show that opening up the sport to others can provide real value and insight to teams.
Oftentimes, girls and women aren’t presented with options besides softball. For Smith, it’s about getting the word out to girls and women that they, too, have a chance to play baseball.
Folks like Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach professional baseball, are working to make this happen, Smith says. Siegal’s foundation, Baseball For All, works to bring gender equity to baseball by encouraging girls to pursue their baseball dreams, whether it’s through being a player, coach or umpire, or filling an operational role.
Representation and efforts like Baseball For All “keep opening doors for girls and women in this game,” Smith says.
Soon, Smith will plant herself in Fort Myers and get to work with the Red Sox. Despite the team’s lackluster performance in the 2020 season, she believes “there’s always a chance” to make it to the World Series. She stops short on making any specific predictions for the 2021 MLB season, though.
“Ask me once I get to know the players and I get to know the coaches and I get to see what the roster looks like,” she says, “then you can ask me what I think.”
This segment aired on January 14, 2021.