‘You can do it just like the men’: Former USF softball player paves the way for women in baseball

Gajownik posted her best career numbers in 2014, including a batting average of .322 and a .361 OBP. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Gajownik played for USF softball from 2014-15, but now is in charge of running High-A Arizona Diamondback affiliate, the Hillsboro Hops.

On Friday, Gajownik was announced as Minor League Baseball’s second woman manager in the MLB and the first at the High-A level.

For Gajownik, the feeling of being named a High-A manager hasn’t settled in yet.

“I’m still trying to grasp that. I feel like in this profession, I’m just where I just stick my head down and I just keep going, not really looking up a lot and just wanting to keep trying. I’ve really been having to keep my head up and look to see where I’m at. I’m definitely still in shock, but it’s a good feeling,” Gajownik said.

Gajownik has worked her way up through the Diamondbacks, starting out as a player development intern in the organization and working her way up to this point.

Following her time as an intern, she served as a video assistant with the Hops, a first base coach with the Amarillo Sod Poodles and a coach for the Salt River Rafters from 2021-22.

Coaching was something Gajownik became interested in when she got out of college. She started out at Liberty as a graduate assistant for the baseball program from 2015-17, then moved on to UMASS Amherst as an assistant coach from 2017-21.

This isn’t just an interest for Gajownik – it’s a passion.

“I got into coaching because I love the game of softball and baseball and this game has brought me a lot of friends. It’s actually made me a lot of who I consider now family. It’s just given me so much of my morals and my values and how I view life,” Gajownik said.

“There were a lot of coaches who engaged and helped me and I want to help other players become the best player that they could possibly be.”

One of those coaches for Gajownik is coach Ken Eriksen of South Florida softball. Eriksen has led the program since 1997 and was part of Gajownik’s career as a softball player.

Early on, Eriksen realized she had an intuition for the game not only as a player, but also as a teacher.

“Ronnie had an opportunity to take a fork in the road and go to baseball coming off of a couple of years, coaching at Liberty and coaching at the University of Massachusetts [Amherst]. I was actually open at one time and asked if she would ever come back here and coach with us, that’s the type of person she was,” Eriksen said.

“All the accolades go to her hard work and perseverance in what’s going on, but at the same time, somebody has recognized that she’s capable of doing what she’s given the job to do. She’s a trailblazer, no question about it, and she’s been well prepared.”

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is a common occurrence when joining any baseball-related workforce. Many women have struggled in this line of work, even with just holding a presence in the MLB. In 2022, only 29.2% of employees were female, according to Statista.

However, Gajownik has never felt this way with her years of experience on the field while working in baseball. When asked if she ever had any challenges with sexism on the field, there wasn’t one occurrence that popped into her mind.

“No, I have not and I feel very fortunate to answer it in that fashion. I think that’s also kudos to the men that the Diamondbacks bring in and the culture that they have and how all the men they are bringing in are qualified candidates,” Gajownik said.

“I might have a little bit longer hair than everybody else, but I’m still qualified and they’re not going to waste your time with someone who isn’t going to be making their players better because at the end of the day, they need all of these dudes down here, they all need to make it to the big leagues.”

Now as a newly minted manager, a lot has piled up on Gajownik’s plate. Between adjusting to a new position and taking on another set of responsibilities, there is a lot of work to be done.

Every manager has a vision as to what they want in their ballclub, which comes with a list of things they want to implement and the goals they strive to achieve.

Though it has been less than a week, Gajownik is already setting in on her intentions for the Hops.

“My goals are to help my staff achieve what they want to achieve in their roles, with themselves as well as their players. Another goal is to continue to make myself better and learn the game. There are managers who are 66 years old and they’re still learning the game and picking up little new nuggets of knowledge,” Gajownik said.

“Also just making big leaguers. At the end of the day, some guy might make a really big step forward in regards to approaching the ground ball better than sitting right at them. There might be some days where he just gets a little bit mentally stronger between the years but I think day in and day out the goal is, even if you improve by 0.1%, over time, that’s going to add up,” Gajownik said.

With Gajownik now shedding the light for women to not be scared of entering male-dominated roles, she, along with many others, are paving the way for women in baseball.

Just over a year ago, Rachel Balkovec was announced as baseball’s first female manager. She was promoted by the Yankees to manage the Low-A Tampa Tarpons. Along with her are names like Alyssa Nakken, who became the first woman to coach on an MLB field for the Giants, and Kelsie Whitmore, who was the first woman to play for an MLB-partnered team.

To be a woman working in baseball, Gajownik believes it goes deeper than if you are just male or female – it’s if you can do it.

“If you’re qualified, you can do it just like the men. If you have what you need on your resume, and you’re fine, and you’re wanting a position – again, if you have everything on your resume that satisfies that, then you can do that,” Gajownik said.

“I think it’s more of just that visibility thing and now that women are getting higher positions, on the field or off the field with baseball or other professional leagues, you now know that you can 100% do this as a female. As generic as it is, if you see something, then you know that you can do it.”