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Wednesday September 28th

Two UNC softball players broke gender barriers this summer in baseball coaching roles

<p>Junior UNC softball player Kayla Baptista shakes hands with the coach of an opposing team before a Down East Wood Ducks game, the low A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Baptista spent the summer working as a Player Development Coach with the Rangers. Photo courtesy of Baptista.</p>
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Junior UNC softball player Kayla Baptista shakes hands with the coach of an opposing team before a Down East Wood Ducks game, the low A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Baptista spent the summer working as a Player Development Coach with the Rangers. Photo courtesy of Baptista.

When UNC softball utility player Kianna Jones informed her parents that she planned to coach baseball this past summer, the redshirt junior said her parents were “taken aback.”

“(My parents said) ‘Baseball? Why baseball? Why not softball?’” Jones said. “It was something that I was passionate about and I wanted to challenge myself and they saw that. Ever since I had that conversation with them and let them know — this is what I want to do, these are my goals and this is my aspiration for this — they were totally on board and totally bought in.”

Alongside rising junior Kayla Baptista, Jones was one of two members of the UNC softball team who made history in baseball coaching roles over the summer. 

As a bench coach for the Macon Bacon of the Coastal Plain League, Jones became the first female head coach in Summer League Baseball history when she took over coaching duties in a game against the Forest City Owls on May 30.

Baptista, a player development coach with the Texas Rangers this summer,  served as the first base coach in a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming the first female base coach in Rangers organization history.

“Both of them really broke barriers as coaches, and it’s not just a token-type thing,” UNC head coach Donna J. Papa said. “The MLB has really embraced women, and I think it’s fantastic that they’re getting these opportunities.”

In her role as a bench coach, Jones specialized in scouting. Using a system called TrackMan, she downloaded in-game statistics to make spray charts for hitters and help predict opponents' pitch sequences.

Jones didn’t always want to work for a baseball team, but her conversations with teammate Baptista and minor league baseball manager Rachel Balkovec convinced her to give it a try.

“I always enjoyed watching baseball for sure, and I always had a passion for the game," Jones said. “But it was also a bit of a challenge for me, as I wanted to challenge myself to see what I could do and what I could accomplish in a different sport.”

For Baptista, this past summer is the culmination of years put into baseball instruction. Baptista gave baseball lessons throughout high school, and in 2019, helped start the 297 Baseball Academy in Aruba. This was her first organizational baseball experience, where Baptista said she discovered her passion for coaching.

“It was a 15-hour camp day and it didn’t feel like a second of work,” she said.

Last year, Baptista became the Cape Cod Baseball League’s first female on-field coach as an intern with the Wareham Gatemen. This summer, Baptista traveled through Texas, Ariz., and the Dominican Republic to work with position players and hitters within the Rangers organization. Her tasks included working on positioning in games, leading drills and working closely with the various affiliate managers to write manager reports. 

While Baptista noticed some disparities during her experience, such as not having a private place to change clothes at times, she acknowledged these difficulties as just another challenge to overcome.

“I mean, I could be upset and pissed off about all of that, but in reality, I see it as opportunity,” Baptista said. “And I see it as just the grind, and the grind is nothing that I’m not used to.”

While both Baptista and Jones broke gender barriers this summer, if you ask them, they simply see themselves as another coach on the field.

"(The players) don’t treat me any differently than they do the other coaches, which has been honestly the best part, is just feeling like I’m just another one of the coaches," Jones said. "That was something that I was kind of fearful of before I got here, but as soon as I got here all of my nerves were calmed down for sure, and they’ve been so welcoming."

Baptista echoed this, saying she “had no idea that she was the first or only female out on the field ever.”

 ”I never noticed those things,” Baptista said. “Just because I know that I am capable of everything that a man can do and just, gender really never comes to my mind with really anything. I’ve earned everything that I have. I mean, I’ve never felt for a second that I wasn’t qualified for anything and that’s so important.”

Abigail Keller and Sarah Schulz contributed reporting to this story.

@shelbymswanson

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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