Last Friday, Ronnie Gajownik made baseball history when the D-backs announced her as the new Hillsboro manager for the 2023 season. That made Gajownik the first-ever woman skipper in the history of the High-A level and the second ever at any spot in the Minors after Tampa’s Rachel Balkovec took the helm in 2022.
The former University of South Florida softball player joined the Arizona organization in 2021 and served as the Double-A Amarillo first-base coach last season before earning a separate coaching stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Gajownik joined The Show Before the Show, the official podcast of Minor League Baseball, this week and talked to co-hosts Tyler Maun and Sam Dykstra about her road to the Hops dugout, her expectations for her new role and the future of women in baseball. Below is a transcript of some of the highlights of that conversation. You can hear the entire discussion on Episode 391 of The Show Before the Show, out wherever you get podcasts.
Tyler Maun: When did this conversation with the D-backs first start of, “Hey, we think the step for you is a managerial spot”? Take us through how this came together.
Ronnie Gajownik: Yeah, I was actually working this past season with the Fall League, so I was working with the Salt River Rafters. I got a call from Josh [Barfield], I believe it was October I want to say, and I wasn't expecting a call. I was actually cleaning my apartment, and I get a call from Josh Barfield, I'm like, “Uh oh. Go ahead and pick it up. Again, I’m not expecting him to call. He's like, “Hey, Ronnie, how's it going?” I'm like, “Yeah, you know, cleaning my blinds, no big deal.” And then he said, “We want to go ahead and talk to you about next season.” Sick, sounds great. And he goes, “So we'd really like for you to be up in Hillsboro. Oh, wait, hold on a second. I'm getting another call.” I sit there for about 30 seconds. I'm like, “Oh, my gosh, what is it going to be?” He gets on. “Hey, Ronnie, still there?” Yep, I'm still here. [Waiting] very patiently, but it felt like five minutes I was waiting for. He told me that I was going to go ahead and be the manager up in Hillsboro.
We had a great conversation afterward of how they saw me and the value that I'd be bringing up there as well as to the other staff who's going to be blessing me up there. So yeah, I was holding it in. I went to my wife and told her, and she started crying. She was pretty excited. So she did the crying for the both of us. I appreciate her. It was good.
Sam Dykstra: At what point did the history of the moment hit you?
Gajownik: It hit me on Friday, when they released it. I felt like the past couple of months I've been living like a ninja or a spy, like incognito. No one knew what was going on but me, as well as my family. I really didn't even tell a lot of my close friends or anything like that.
There had obviously been conversations throughout our organization about me taking the managerial role. So I was living a little bit of bliss, fishing, no big deal. And then I got here for instructs a week and a half ago and then with the announcement and seeing all of the positive press from it from everybody, all the social media outlets and whatnot. I'm not one to really go on social media, but I can tell you on Friday, it was a lot as my phone's blowing up. So I told my wife I'm gonna go ahead put my phone down so we can actually have some good dinner time, rather than me just staring at it. I knew, but I didn't realize just how big until was actually in my face.
Dykstra: So now that you’ve had a week, what does it mean now to have seen that reaction?
Gajownik: It was great. I think the biggest thing too [is] women are now getting the experiences that they need to fill the resumes to get to this role. Ten years ago, it wasn't like that. So the fact that women are now becoming normal in these types of roles, in regards of being an on-field coach or with Rachel Folden with the Cubs who's the assistant hitting coordinator, or Veronica Alvarez, the coordinator of player development with the A's in Latin America. Just the fact to even be, in my opinion, at that level with those females, it's a great honor, and also the fact that I get to call them really, really good and close friends of mine.
Maun: As far as managerial identity goes, how much of that did you get to learn last year in Amarillo, and how much has happened through osmosis not only your in life in softball but in baseball as well?
Gajownik: Being in Amarillo last season, being with Shawn Roof and Shane [Loux], hearing their discussions in the dugout, what they do prepping the game of, “Hey, if this happens, if we’re up two, if we're down two, who are we putting in? If this happened, what would be a really good option here?” And then obviously too with all the data that we have in regards of pitchers, hitters and all that, it was great to see them work and to see a filtering too. There are going to be times when you butt heads. But as long as you're passionate and you have that backing up, then you're going to go ahead and make the decision that you feel is right.
So to be able to see that live in action, and then also to just the conversations off the field about it [is big]. Even today, we had one of our … he's going to be a fourth coach in Visalia, he sent me a bunch of stuff that he had used in the past, what the D-backs had used [to help] get myself familiarized with that aspect.
To your point, you can only do so much prepping until you're literally in the [situation], which is getting that experience. You only get experience sometimes when you're actually doing it. So I'm going to do everything that I can beforehand to prep myself, to put myself in the best situation. Then from there, it’s just getting that experience and then having those conversations after the fact.
Dykstra: Looking at the schedule, you guys open on April 6 at Tri-City. As you’re filling out that lineup for the first time, what do you think is going to be running through your head?
Gajownik: Holy [expletive]. No no, I'm gonna think about it. Just for me, for this gig, you're a product of your environment. I think that goes obviously for every single human being on this planet that you're a product of your environment. So the fact of it's not just me writing the lineup. It's my pitching coach. It's my fourth coach. It's my hitting coach. It's Josh Barfield. It’s Cory Swope. It’s Shane Loux. It's my wife. It's all of my friends.
Yes, I might be the one who's physically doing all the writing out, but there's a lot of things that had to go into it from everybody who I've come into contact with. I think it's going to be a big moment for me, and I hope it's also a big moment for everyone who's helped me and helped everybody on our staff.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.