In recent years, women have made strides in America’s favorite pastime — as coaches, front office leads and on broadcast teams.
The push for inclusivity across baseball has caused a trickle-down effect that has been gradual but highly visible locally, as Jen Yorko heads up the Lake County Captains, High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians, as their General Manager.
“For me to be able to live in Lake County, grow up in Lake County, play ball here is sort of surreal. It’s really nice to be a part of the community I grew up in,” Yorko said.
A softball player throughout her high school into college years, Yorko continued her playing career in college. With two older brothers, sports were always at the forefront and she took a particular interest in the game of baseball.
“I played travel ball before it was really big,” Yorko said. “I would go to a lot of Indians games at the time with my dad and the business of baseball really was interesting to me.”
What started as an internship in the ticketing department has turned into a 15-year career with the hometown club for the Lake County native. There’s hardly a role that Yorko hasn’t performed over the last decade, including a four-year stint as assistant GM before assuming the full title.
“I’ve always got a really fair shake. And never felt like I wasn’t being empowered or couldn’t do something just because I was a female,” Yorko said. “It’s not a bad day when you get to show to work and go to a ballpark and work with a team of people who are essential to our community.”
Yorko is one of just a handful of women general managers across 120 minor league organizations, but part of a larger, sweeping trend of a wave of women breaking barriers across Major League Baseball.
In 2020, Kim Ng became the league’s first woman general manager in November 2020 for the Miami Marlins. Meanwhile, Rachel Balkovec was hired by the New York Yankees to head the Tampa Tarpons, making her the first woman to manage a minor league affiliate.
“A couple years ago we had one female umpire, now we have two female umpires. The Yankees have a female manager in Low-A ball,” Yorko said. “Every year you’re seeing more and more progression and I think that’s really exciting.”
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport reports that 22 women held on-field coaching or player development roles in MLB in 2021. That’s a number that Yorko would like to see grow. The outpouring of support she’s received since coming the GM has only motivated her more.
“I think at that point it was really more of a difference-maker for me than just myself being named a GM as female, but more of they don’t really realize that there’s an opportunity for them to work in baseball,” Yorko said.
Yorko’s leadership is on display both in the office, where she oversees a team of young women poised to become the next wave of leadership in baseball, as well as in the form of her 8-year-old daughter’s softball team.
Her message for both is simple.
“When I played baseball as a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old, there would be sometimes boys that would spit in their hand on the other team,” Yorko said. “But I always had teammates behind me. There’s always going to be someone supporting you when you have opposition. Just know that you have opportunities to go places and continue to do your thing.”
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