Rachel Folden Is Ready To Make Her Mark On Chicago Cubs, MLB
Rachel Folden's first love wasn't softball, even though she excelled at it for much of her life. In fact, it was actually baseball that Folden first fell in love with, which is the sport she was recently hired to coach in a landmark move by Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs.
Folden, who made a name for herself in softball as a four-time All-American at Marshall University and a five-year National Pro Fastpitch player with the Chicago Bandits and Carolina Diamonds, was hired by the Cubs in November to serve as their lead hitting lab tech and the fourth coach of their Arizona Rookie League team. She is one of the first women in MLB history to serve in such a role.
"I have always loved baseball and wanted to work in baseball," Folden told Softball America in a phone interview. "I even wanted to play baseball, but we know how that worked out. But I have put myself in a position to learn from baseball people by being forward about it and not afraid to ask questions in that male-dominated industry."
Folden credits her time as a softball player at both the collegiate and professional levels for the confidence and work ethic she has needed to position herself for her new role with the Cubs.
"I think I was really fortunate to play for (former Marshall and current Indiana head coach) Shonda Stanton since she holds her athletes to such a high standard. From a work-ethic standpoint, I’ve learned a lot from her and I think that helps go into tackling a job like this," Folden added. "I also know what it feels like to fail and to succeed in the game. I know what it feels like to be up with the bases loaded and two outs."
While Folden's experiences as a collegiate and professional softball standout may have helped to prepare her for her new role, she believes the time she's spent as a coach and private instructor in recent years is actually more valuable to her in her position with the Cubs.
After her collegiate playing career ended in 2008, Folden served as both a high school and college softball coach, most notably at Division I Valparaiso University. She later founded Folden Fastpitch, which is a softball and baseball training facility in Indiana that focuses on biomechanics, science, technology and data in hitting.
"I think that what I have learned since I’ve been done playing is significantly more important than the experiences that I had while playing," said Folden, who ranks in the top 10 in NPF history in home runs, RBI, walks and doubles.
Cubs director of hitting Justin Stone agrees with that sentiment. Stone, who was hired by Chicago in October, brought Folden on board after working with her for two years on consulting deals related to both baseball and softball instruction.
"Not only do I think she's going to excel in this job, she very well could be a coordinator somewhere in a couple years," Stone said. "I have an extreme amount of confidence in what she's going to bring."
Folden, who calls Stone one of her advocates, says she believes he wasn't trying to make a statement by hiring a woman. Instead, he was just trying to hire the best person for the job.
"Having an advocate on my side who is well-respected in the industry, that was huge," Folden said. "What I appreciate about Justin is that I’ve always been treated as a coach and I’ve always been held to a standard based on merit."
Folden believes this type of treatment will carry over to the players she will coach this year with the Cubs.
"I think players are players and they want to get better," stated Folden, who will serve in a managerial role with Folden Fastpitch from afar during this year's MLB season. "If I have to communicate with somebody, I have to figure out a way to communicate with that specific player. I don't really think that changes whether they are men or women."
And as she prepares for her first MLB season, which starts with spring training next month, Folden is as focused on learning as she is on teaching this year with the Cubs.
"I just want to get in the cage and get to work and start analyzing players and getting to know them," she said. "I just want to get started."