Bianca Smith ’12 becomes first Black woman to coach professional baseball

by Benjamin Ashley and Vikram Strander | 1/12/21 2:00am

Source: Mark Washburn via the Dartmouth Athletics Department

On Jan. 4, the Boston Red Sox announced the hiring of former Dartmouth softball player Bianca Smith ’12 as a minor league coach, making her the first Black woman to coach in professional baseball history. Smith joins former Dartmouth football coaches Callie Brownson and Jennifer King, both now coaching in the NFL, as trailblazing female coaches with a Dartmouth connection.

Speaking at a press conference, Smith said that the significance of her hiring was still sinking in.

“It’s honestly still surreal,” Smith said. “When I accepted the offer, I really just wanted to coach. I didn’t really think about how big this was.”  

After joining the Dartmouth softball team as a walk-on her junior year, Smith played 17 games before an injury cut short her playing career. Smith sought out many other opportunities within sports at Dartmouth, including playing club baseball, cheerleading and starting a sports business club. She also became a manager of the baseball team her sophomore year, tracking statistics from the press box, taping and developing practice film and learning about coaching from longtime head coach Bob Whalen.

“Dartmouth opened up so many opportunities, because it gave me an opportunity to explore the different areas of sports and figure out which area fit best for me,” Smith said. “Without that chance to really do as much as I could, I think it would have taken me longer to figure out that I wanted to be on strictly the baseball side of the game, and even the on-field side of the game.”

After beginning her baseball coaching career at Dartmouth, Smith pursued her dual J.D. and MBA degree in sports law and sports management at Case Western Reserve University, where she volunteered as an assistant baseball coach and director of baseball operations. Her front office experience landed her internships with the Texas Rangers, the MLB commissioner's office and the Cincinnati Reds, where she helped with scouting, roster management and player development. Following her MLB internships, she became the assistant athletic director at Carroll University, where she also served as hitting coordinator for the baseball team.

Dartmouth softball head coach Jen Williams underscored the impact of Smith’s recent hiring for the current Big Green roster, particularly for Black players on the team.

“I think [Smith’s hiring] is incredibly meaningful for our Black players,” Williams said. “Having her hired is meaningful for them as women and as Black softball players, which is something that is still not as common as it needs to be.”

Softball player Brooke Plonka ’22 said that she views Smith’s hiring as a sign that “empowered and successful women come out of Dartmouth softball all the time” and a turning point for forging connections between men’s and women’s sports.

“I think that growing up in the softball environment, you kind of feel separated from baseball,” Plonka said. “So seeing baseball and softball come together like this and [knowing] that our alum is the one doing it, is really remarkable.”

“Sometimes it’s not the idea that I can’t do it — it’s just you never thought about it because you don’t see anybody who looks like you.”

Williams described Smith’s hiring as a positive step for women vying for coaching positions in all professional sports. She said the team is “proud” to have an alumna in the “first wave” of women entering the professional coaching ranks.

While Smith has already made history in professional baseball, she is still eyeing the future. Smith aims to climb the MLB coaching ranks with the ultimate goal of becoming an MLB manager.

“I just want to go as high as I can, as far as I can,” Smith said.

Although Smith said she did not expect to be viewed as an inspiration when she took the job with the Red Sox, she hopes to be someone whom young girls can look to as an example of what women — and specifically Black women — can do in sports.

“I’m hoping to be the person …  that looks like them and gives them the idea that they can do this,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s not the idea that I can’t do it — it’s just you never thought about it because you don’t see anybody who looks like you.”