Cubs’ Rachel Folden is swinging away at stigma that ‘women can’t coach baseball’

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Several days later at practice, Folden’s softball coach, Shonda Stanton, made an announcement. She was issuing team punishments, she said; several players had committed infractions. A few of Folden’s teammates were chastised because their grades had fallen below the team standard. But not Folden — in her case, Stanton had received a stern note from Folden’s computing professor, who was displeased that Folden’s statistical deep dive had overridden her attention to spreadsheet builds.

“My coach loves to tell people how the only thing she had to punish me for in four years was looking up statistics during class,” Folden says, laughing. “I’ve always been a data nerd.”nike nfl jerseys cheap

She has expertly incorporated that love of number-crunching into her career, first as a pro player for the Chicago Bandits and a college softball coach; then as the founder of Folden Fastpitch — a training facility that Folden ran full time until this past fall, when she became the lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League team in Mesa.

The new role makes Folden, 32, one of four women hired to coaching roles within pro baseball this past offseason and the first woman coach hired by the Cubs.1

“Her ability to speak about the swing, the mechanics — those were easy boxes to check,” Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ director of player development, says. “She was such an easy hire, not just because her credentials were so strong but also because when we got to know her personality and how ready she was to face the organic challenges, male or female, how committed she was to leaning in to this challenge, it really resonated with all of us.”

Baseball was Folden’s first love. She was a talented multisport athlete while growing up in Southern California, but Little League was her passion. During the spring of Folden’s eighth-grade year, her basketball coach — who also coached softball — asked Folden to switch to softball. Folden declined. She assumed the league was slow pitch, and she wasn’t interested.

“Yeah, OK,” the coach responded. “You’re probably not very good anyway.” nike

That challenge was all the motivation Folden needed. She joined the rec softball team, then made the varsity squad at Diamond Bar (California) High School, where she excelled, hitting .531 as a senior and earning first-team all-state honors. While she missed baseball, Folden was grateful that her softball coaches and teammates focused on her play and not her gender, which had often happened when she competed in baseball.

“That attention [from playing baseball] was very similar to what I’m getting right now, which is interesting,” Folden says. “Once I started softball, I was only getting judged on my talent. That felt like home to me.”

Following her graduation from Marshall — where she was a four-time All-American — with a degree in history and a minor in math, Folden played five seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league. Coaching was her long-term goal, so even while she was still playing, she also coached softball at Holy Names University in Oakland and then at Valparaiso.