With mere weeks to go before the Boston Red Sox’s rookie baseball team kicks off its 2022 season, Bianca Smith is well aware that her new position as a full-time coach for the Florida Complex League club is another milestone in her trailblazing career path.
She just doesn’t want anyone to linger too long over the moment.
“If anything, the title (of ‘first’) should show that we haven’t progressed as far as we think we have,” said the 30-year-old Smith, who first made headlines in January 2021 when she was named the first Black female coach in professional baseball history.
“The fact that it’s 2022, and we’re still getting excited about the first time a woman does something – and this game has been around for over 100 years. Like, that’s really sad, actually.”
Smith starts this season with the FCL Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., with a new title, minor league coach. After her start last year as a part-time hitting coach, Smith told On Her Turf that this new title more aptly reflects her role on the player development staff, which has expanded to include everything from batting practice and baserunning, to infield and outfield practice.
“I think the Red Sox purposely titled it as ‘minor league coach’ just so I could do multiple things,” said Smith, who describes herself as a “utility” coach – ready and willing to jump in whenever, wherever needed. “And it’s pretty cool being able to run different areas. I’m that type of person who likes having responsibility over one or two areas. But I also like being able to be involved in others, even if I’m not the expert, because part of it is I want to learn more.”
Keeping multiple irons in the fire while also soaking in all available knowledge has been a hallmark of Smith’s journey into professional baseball, which she fell in love with as a kid growing up in Grapevine, Texas. Her late mother, Dawn Patterson, was a devoted New York Yankees fan and passed that passion on to her daughter.
While attending Dartmouth, her parents’ alma mater, Smith got one of her first experiences to participate in the sport when she joined the school’s club team as an upperclassman. Despite the fact she already was a cheerleader and member of the varsity softball team, Smith was not missing out on the chance to play and went to great lengths to keep it hidden from her softball coach.
“The baseball team always practiced after softball, so I kind of stayed back acting like I was putting my stuff away,” remembers Smith. “And then the baseball team would walk in, and I would pull all my baseball stuff out.
“I had two rules. One: I didn’t feel the infield grounders during practice – if I get a short hop to the face, my coach is gonna get (mad). And (second): Do not hit me during BP, because I don’t want to have to explain any bruises or anything to my coach that didn’t come from cheer.”
Smith graduated in 2012, and her mom died in April 2013, just nine months after being diagnosed with a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, which was found in her head and neck. It was an aha moment for Smith, who found herself inspired by words from her mother still ringing in her ear.
“My mom always said that you spend most of your life working, so I needed to find the thing that I love to do,” Smith told the New York Times.
Four months later, Smith was enrolled at Case Western University in Ohio, where she earned dual degrees in business and law with the intent of becoming an MLB general manager. Not surprisingly, she took on duties from 2013-17 as the university baseball team’s first director of baseball operations.
An internship with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019 proved to be a turning point for Smith, who spent any down time from her job in the baseball operations department in the stands during practice. She told an assistant hitting coach she was interested in coaching, and when she offered to help, he agreed. Manager David Bell suggested Smith bring her glove to practice, and a new passion was born.
While trying to land her first paid coaching position, Smith juggled up to eight jobs at one point. Among them: Sorting packages at a UPS warehouse, packing online orders at Target, driving for Uber Eats, Texas Rangers’ tour guide and youth academy coach, and ticket taker for F.C. Dallas. For extra baseball experience, she was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Dallas.
As part of her job search, Smith said she contacted more than 100 Division I college coaches and got responses from just 26. She had one job offer, but the compensation didn’t justify the move. And out of the nearly 40 positions in college baseball operations that she applied for, she got three interviews but no offers.
Last month in the major leagues, San Francisco Giants coach Alyssa Nakken made history as the first female coach on the field in a regular-season game. The minor leagues have shown progress as well, and in January, the Red Sox hired Katie Krall as a developmental coach for Double-A Portland. Also in January, Rachel Balkovec became the first female manager in the minors, taking over at the Low-A Tampa Tampa, while Caitlyn Callahan was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a developmental coach for its club in Bradenton, Fla.
“I think there’s definitely a way where we can acknowledge it without making it seem like it’s such a surprising thing to happen,” said Smith. “We should expect this at this point. So, once it’s happened, it’s happened. Let it go. Great – we did it. Now let’s keep going. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep doing our job – you know, what we were hired for.”
But as the coaching space continues to evolve, Smith knows people are interested in her opinion on how these dynamics are progressing. However, her primary goal remains clear:
“I don’t care about being the first Black woman,” she said. “I kind of don’t like the label – because I just want to be known as a coach. I don’t want to be known as the first Black woman coach; I want to be known as a great coach, who knows what she’s doing, and is in it for her players.
“That’s really all I care about, that’s the title I’m trying to get – not ‘first Black woman coach.’ Honestly, if I finished my career, and that’s all I’m known for, then I did something wrong.”
Peacock’s new Sunday morning Major League Baseball package, MLB Sunday Leadoff, kicks off this Sunday, May 8, with the Boston Red Sox hosting the Chicago White Sox from Fenway Park live at 11:30 a.m. ET on Peacock and NBC.
On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.