When Ronnie Gajownik was named manager of the minor league Hillsboro Hops this past offseason, it was clear to everyone that she was breaking a gender barrier in organized baseball.
Following in the footsteps of Tampa Tarpons skipper Rachel Balkovec, Gajownik became the second female manager in the affiliated minor leagues and the first woman to manage at the High Class-A level.
She had shattered one of the game’s glass ceilings and anyone who’s familiar with how slowly the baseball industry usually moves could attest that this was already quite an impressive feat.
But there’s another trailblazing aspect to her story that hadn’t earned much focus yet: Gajownik is a member of the LGBTQ community. Which means that she’s also about to become the first publicly out manager in minor or major league baseball history.
It’s not often a first time A-ball manager shifts the landscape of an entire sport. But Gajownik is about to pull that off as soon as she steps on the field this season.
After coming out publicly in 2018, Gajownik has repeatedly referenced her wife when discussing her story in interviews. Additionally, she has posted multiple pictures of the two of them as a couple on Instagram, including a recent celebration of their two year anniversary that she captioned, “Wouldn’t be who I am as a person or as a professional without you.”
In fact, when Gajownik learned she got the Hillsboro job last October, the first person she told was her wife.
Appearing on Joe Maddon and Tom Verducci’s “The Book of Joe” podcast, Gajownik recalled, “It was shock, it was excitement. And I got off the phone and my wife looked at me and she goes, ‘So where you going?’ And I told her and she cried for the both of us. I appreciated that so that I didn’t have to do it. So it was a great moment.”
Inheriting her father’s devotion to the Cubs, Gajownik grew up a huge fan of the game in central Florida. She later played softball at the University of South Florida and won a gold medal in Women’s Baseball at the 2015 Pan-American Games. Following her college career, she became an assistant coach for UMass.
Fate intervened during the 2020 pandemic season when Gajownik was invited to participate in a series of Zooms with Major League Baseball executives through an MLB/USA Baseball diversity program. Her knowledge impressed prominent figures like Miami Marlins GM Kim Ng and word about her spread fast throughout the game.
Eventually, the Arizona Diamondbacks offered Gajownik a player development internship and again her partner was there for her during another pivotal moment in her life.
“I was pretty happy at UMass,” she said to Maddon and Verducci, “But I also wanted a little bit of a change and a little bit of a challenge and to see how things were done in professional baseball. So I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Hey, are you good with selling our place here and going over to the West Coast?’ And she said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it.’ So that opened my door.”
That support paid off quickly. Following her internship, Gajownik spent the 2022 season coaching the D-backs AA affiliate Amarillo Sod Poodles. And based on her quick elevation to manager, she clearly impressed the organization.
So when the Hops open their season on April 6, it’s going to be a historic occasion. For years, we’ve been reporting on how baseball teams react to an out LGBTQ person on their rosters. Now we’re about to watch a member of our community running the whole show. Thanks to Gajownik, on Opening Day 2023, baseball is about to change for the better.