PHOENIX – On April 6, Ronnie Gajownik will make history when she walks out of the Gesa Stadium third base dugout in Pasco, Washington, to present the Opening Day lineup for Oregon’s Hillsboro Hops. Gajownik was named manager of the Hops, the High-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jan. 20, making her the first female manager at the High-A level.
“It’s definitely going to be a roller coaster of a lot of good emotions,” Gajownik said. “I’m definitely going do my best to hold it in, but there’s definitely going to be excitement, happiness and gratitude.”
The only other female manager in professional baseball, Rachel Balcovec, is about to start her second season as manager of the Low A Tampa Tarpons.
Becoming a professional manager felt unobtainable to Gajownik when she envisioned her future in the sport as a child. After her historic hiring, she is ready to be a trailblazer for other women in the game.
Gajownik joined the Diamondbacks in 2021 as a video assistant for the Hops. She received a promotion to the Sod Poodles for the 2022 season as their first base coach after coach Javier Colina sustained a foot injury.
Before joining the professional ranks, Gajownik was an assistant softball coach at Liberty and UMass-Amerherst.
Her playing career includes helping USA Baseball Women’s National Team win a gold medal in the 2015 Pan American Games. She also played softball at the University of South Florida.
Josh Barfield, the Diamondbacks’ director for player development, pointed to Gajownik’s playing career and baseball IQ as reaasons she was chosen for the Hillsboro managerial position.
“It was her knowledge of the game that stood out,” Barfield said in a statement. “She had a playing background, communicates well and possessed a hunger to develop our athletes. She did a great job working with the guys in Double-A Amarillo last season and connected with such ease, which proved her leadership and initiative to make this organization better.”
Gajownik acknowledged Barfield’s support and noted how much he and the Diamondbacks organization are trusting her to develop talent for the future. The most recent team rankings from MLB Pipeline have the Diamondbacks with the fifth-best farm system in baseball, headlined by outfielder Corbin Carroll, shortstop Jordan Lawler, whom Gajownik coached in 2022, and outfielder Druw Jones, who could get a chance in 2023 to play under Gajownik at High-A if he impresses early in the minor league season.
— Hillsboro Hops (@HillsboroHops) January 26, 2023
Shawn Roof, who will be returning as manager of the Sod Poodles, coached with Gajownik last season and was impressed by her ability to connect with players, especially on short notice. Her hunger for more knowledge and desire to help players also stood out.
“You could see that as the season went along,” Roof said, “that there was a possibility of becoming manager sometime in the future.”
Roof added that he was not shocked when he heard Gajownik was selected to be the Hops’ next manager. He has been surprised at her quick acsent, but pointed out that baseball can take unexpected paths.
The two managers look forward to using their already developed relationship to communicate about players who shift between Hillsboro and Amarillo.
Roof never needed to give specific managerial advice to Gajownik, he said, because that would “be a disservice to her and her baseball background.”
He also is excited to see more opportunities available for women in baseball, and believes Gajownik will open doors for other females.
“Our women can truly feel that they do belong in the game of baseball,” Roof said. “I’m sure they always thought they did belong, but they might not have had that opportunity because there wasn’t representation.”
Gajownik feels the same way, and hopes that when she sees future staff lists, she is no longer seeing “the first female” tag.
She has no idea where her baseball journey will lead next. Some MLB players report as early as Feb. 13, so Gajownik and the rest of the staff are already preparing for a pivotal spring training in Scottsdale.
Gajownik is grateful for the opportunity, and the people who have helped her reached this point.
“There was a lot of work put in, not only from my end, but also from all of my family, friends and coworkers,” Gajownik said. “I hope that everybody who has helped me along the way feels the same way. … The reason that I saw that I could do this is because other people saw it in me.”