Bianca Smith made headlines when she was hired in January 2021 as the first Black female coach in the history of professional baseball. CNN, BBC and People Magazine were among the outlets that published stories about the Boston Red Sox’s new minor league coach.
Two years later, Smith left the Red Sox organization with much less fanfare, leaving a multi-year offer on the table because she said she didn’t feel challenged.
“They wanted to send me back to rookie baseball and I had no desire to be there, so I decided to take my chance,” Smith said in a phone interview with The Athletic. “Everyone I know who stays in rookie baseball (for a long period of time) does it because they have families and they like that lifestyle. I was ready to travel more. “My passion is (game) strategy and rookie ball is almost exclusively player development.”
Smith does not give up on returning to the MLB. She is spinning. The 31-year-old moved to Japan last summer and is coaching elementary and middle school baseball through the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) program, which she called a “bucket list” item. Smith also recently accepted a job with the Great Britain women’s national baseball team and the Great Britain under-23 baseball team.
Smith’s goal for this part of his coaching career is to be a sponge, absorbing as much information and different experiences as possible. Defensive strategies and baserunning are Smith’s passion, a style of baseball that is most popular in Japan.
By the end of this year he will have trained in five countries on three continents. In addition to learning Japanese, Smith is working on learning Chinese and Korean.
“Now everyone (in the MLB) speaks Spanish, it almost seems like a requirement,” he said. “But how many coaches do we have who speak these languages? There are so many players coming from here, and more on the way, and the only thing Asian players usually have are their translators. There is a big focus on baserunning in Japan and I want to highlight that. “It’s the idea of getting a different experience and adding tools that MLB doesn’t have.”
Smith made the decision to leave the Red Sox at the end of the fall of 2022, which meant that most other teams had limited openings for the following season. Smith wasn’t surprised he didn’t get another job right away: Rookie-level positions are often the last ones available.
This offseason, however, was a different story. Smith applied for several open positions and said he did not get an interview.
“That was surprising,” said Smith, who openly said when she was hired by Boston that she had bigger goals: to be the first black woman to coach in the major leagues.
Smith, a graduate of Dartmouth, where she was the only woman on the club softball team, has two graduate degrees: one in sports business and the other in sports law. She interned with the Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers and Major League Baseball and served as an assistant coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University in Wisconsin before the Red Sox hired her.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about the Red Sox, I loved my time there, but there’s a part of me that believes if I had come in like any ethnic guy I would have moved on,” Smith said. “I don’t like attention, I try to be modest but I do realize that my resume is crazy. I had to go through a lot just to get that rookie job, and that’s why I was surprised there isn’t a team interested in talking about a position after everything I’ve done.
“Looking back, I think I would have had a better chance of advancing if I wasn’t a woman in the game. There could have been things behind the scenes that I didn’t know about. But every industry has to deal with politics. As for the field, I didn’t have any problems.”
The Red Sox declined to comment on the specifics of Smith’s contract offer, but Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham said: “Bianca ultimately decided to pursue other opportunities within baseball that we respect and certainly would like her. wish the best. During her time with the Red Sox it was exciting to watch her continually grow as a member of their staff. It was a pleasure to work with her.”
Even if Smith doesn’t receive an offer from a professional team, he has a contract in Japan through August 2026 that gives him the opportunity to be picky about what he does next.
Smith says she no longer dreams of being a big league coach and that in a perfect world she would prefer to be a base coach. Less attention, more strategy. Smith avoided the media blitz that accompanied her historic hiring and spent a month and a half before making it public that she had left the Red Sox. She says that she now regrets that a little.
“I didn’t appreciate the opportunity to get that attention,” said Smith, who started a blog called Go be the first to document their adventures abroad. “I grew up believing that coaches should be behind the scenes, but now I wish I had done more with (the attention) and used it as a platform. It’s not just about her not being in professional baseball, but the fact that she was the only black woman. And now there’s no one for black girls to look at.
“I’ve had the opportunity to step back and think about what I’ve done. I kept telling people when I got the job, ‘I’m not done yet, let’s talk about it later.’ Obviously I’m not done yet, but I’ve done something no one has done before. I had a couple of interviews here in Japan with different newspapers, not only was I the first black woman in the MLB, but now I’m in Japan training here. Now I realize that, ‘Okay, I’ve done something that’s pretty amazing.’ “I can see that and I still want to do more.”
Smith said he misses the players he coached and is still in touch with many of them, as well as his former coworkers.
“The majority understood and supported my decision. They know what my goals are, how ambitious I can be. Maybe (I’m) a little impatient, but I don’t have any ill will,” she said. “It’s harder to get back into professional baseball than I thought. But I don’t regret my decision (to leave). “I think I would be more upset in a job where I am not happy and where I am not growing.”
(Top photo of Smith in 2021: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)