If Rachel Folden does her job as well as the Cubs believe she can, the phrase “You play ball like a girl” will take on a whole new meaning. The Cubs have made several targeted moves this offseason to update and upgrade their development infrastructure, the latest round of which meant bringing in several outside voices to help with their hitting. That effort starts with Justin Stone, the director of hitting who was brought in to oversee the Cubs’ entire philosophy after previously serving as a consultant.
Just like David Ross bringing in some of his own people to join his coaching staff, Stone was given the authority to choose some minor league coaches. At the top of that list was the 32-year-old Folden, founder of Folden Fastpitch just about an hour south of Chicago in Merrillville, IN. She had worked with Stone’s Elite Baseball Training as a consultant and has implemented biomechanics and technology in her instruction for nearly a decade.
Now she’ll be the lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for Rookie League Mesa, a role that has importance on a bigger scale for the whole system. The Cubs aren’t just replacing old coaches, they’re adding to their existing staffs with new voices and expertise. Since Stone has to organize that whole enterprise from top to bottom, he needed people he already trusted. People like Folden.
“She’s going to be a star,” Stone said Friday, via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. “She’s the first person I brought in for an interview. Even when I was interviewing with different teams, I brought this up in my own interview process, that this was important to me, because I knew wherever I was going to go, I was going to have to build a staff.
“Rachel’s been working alongside me for the last couple years, and there is nobody more confident.”
Some unfortunate souls may look at this as a token diversity hire, window dressing for the Cubs to drum up some good PR, but that’s not the case at all. This organization can’t afford to make moves just for the hell of it, they’ve got to get the right people in place to make a real difference with their young players. Besides, if the Cubs were really trying to get good publicity, they would have put Folden in a more prominent spot than Mesa.
Folden played five seasons (2008-12) in the National Pro Fastpitch league, including time with the Chicago Bandits, and also served as an assistant softball coach at Valparaiso from 2009-10. She is a 2008 graduate of Marshall University with a major in history and a minor in mathematics, and was named to the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in September of 2019.
Her new boss admitted to a little trepidation when he first considered her for the role, but that went away quickly in light of her abundant qualifications.
“You worry, or you take a second thought of, ‘How are guys going to react to the first time they’ve ever been coached by a woman in their life?’ Rachel’s the perfect person to cross this barrier, because not only is she one of the most talented people in our industry, she’s extremely confident. And, if somebody gives her crap, she’ll get in the cage and probably outswing them.”[Insert your own jokes about how she could easily outswing the Cubs with RISP]
I am extremely honored and proud for the opportunity to work for this organization. First class from the top down, and I can’t wait to get started. It has been a dream of mine to work in baseball for a while now, and with that being said…
LET’S GOOOOOOOO!! https://t.co/cAKQIRGpLb
— Rachel Folden (@FoldenFastpitch) November 22, 2019
“I am extremely honored and proud for the opportunity to work for this organization,” Folden tweeted Friday afternoon. “First class from the top down, and I can’t wait to get started. It has been a dream of mine to work in baseball for a while now.
This looks like a fantastic hire for the Cubs in every regard, though it’s one that probably won’t bear any noticeable fruit for a while yet. Folden will be working with rookie-level players, many of whom won’t reach the majors for several years if they ever make it at all. Her membership in a small-but-growing group of female coaches in professional baseball, however, may have more immediate impact.
As teams continue to seek out new competitive advantages that don’t involve banging on trash cans and using buzzing band-aids to tip pitches, it’s impossible to ignore talent in whatever form it comes. That means *gasp* more women in coaching and front office positions moving forward.
“There’s no way we can compete without women in leadership,” Theo Epstein responded when asked this past January at Cubs Convention about hiring more women.
I tell you what, I am here for dudes getting mad online about this and future hires, but I’m more here for Folden and other women to make the Cubs better. And while I’d prefer that improvement not take place in other organizations, I suppose it’s a small price to pay for putting a few cracks in the glass ceiling.