Kayla Baptista’s favorite memories as a kid growing up in Glocester and Smithfield were the endless trips to McCoy Stadium and Fenway Park with her family to see the Paw Sox and the Red Sox. She fell in love with the game watching her favorite player, Dustin Pedroia, win an MVP and a couple of World Series rings.
“I watched those guys holding up trophies,” Baptista recalls. “That’s what I wanted.”
She might get her wish sooner than she thought.
Baptista, 22, is a development coach within the Texas Rangers organization, and the big club now finds itself just one victory away from winning its first-ever World Series.
If they win, she says the rumor within the organization is that employees will get World Series rings along with players and coaches.
Baptista is among a growing, albeit still tiny, number of women climbing the ladder in professional baseball, and she has been lucky enough to catch on with one of the hottest, and most surprising, teams in the sport.
She started working for the Rangers during the summer when she was still a student at the University of North Carolina, and she accepted a full-time position with the club after graduating in May. She has spent most of the season in Arizona working with players who are rehabbing from injuries, feeding the pitching machine and working various defensive drills with the guys.
“I love the leadership in our organization,” Baptista told me on Tuesday. “When I chose the Rangers, we didn’t have a winning record and we had brand new leadership, but I could just tell they do things the right way. Their vision aligned with mine.”
Baptista was a star softball player at LaSalle Academy, but she knew the odds were stacked against a five-foot-three kid from Rhode Island playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Her father, Joseph Baptista, recalls his daughter hitting softball after softball in the garage. The hard work paid off, and she ended up starting 23 games as a freshman for the Tar Heels.
“She has always loved the game,” Joseph said. “She’s gotten some great mentoring along the way.”
Concussions derailed her sophomore season, but she was already thinking about coaching by the time she decided to hang up her cleats. She was the first female on-field coaching intern in the history of the Cape Cod League for the Wareham Gatemen in 2021, and then joined the Rangers as a coaching apprentice last year. She earned an undergraduate degree in three years, and immediately drove out to Arizona in the spring to work out of the Rangers’ spring training site.
In the past two seasons, she has traveled to all the team’s minor league affiliates, including in Hickory, N.C. That’s where the team’s High-A affiliate plays, and she worked with a young outfielder named Evan Carter last season. A year later, Carter has burst onto the scene as a blossoming star, and he’s hitting in the middle of the Rangers lineup in the World Series.
She also worked closely with Luisangel Acuña, a top prospect and the brother of Atlanta Braves’ star Ronald Acuña. Luisangel was traded earlier this season in a one-for-one deal for Max Scherzer, the legendary pitcher who started Game 3 on Monday night, but left with an injury.
“It’s pretty cool to be a small part of this team,” Baptista said. “It really is true how every single person makes an impact.”
She knows that she is always going to get attention for being a woman in the male-dominated sport, but she said that it doesn’t faze her. She jokes that she doesn’t get her own locker room to change in, but she has earned the respect of the players.
“I worked my ass off to get here, so there’s no reason to complain,” she said.
She’s already planning her off-season, which will include a stint in the Dominican Republic to work with some of the players.
But first, there’s more baseball to play. And she’s proud to be along for the ride.
Before Game 1 of the World Series, she got a call from her boss and was told the Rangers were flying her to Arlington for the first two games against the Diamondbacks. They put her up in a hotel and gave her an extra ticket. She brought her father.
Because she already lives in Arizona, about 40 minutes outside of Phoenix, she has been at Chase Field the past few nights to support the Rangers on the road as well.
As for her future, Baptista said she is “super open-minded” about taking on any challenges, but her ultimate goal is to become the manager of a Major League Baseball franchise.
“I love being on the field with the players, but I wouldn’t say anything is set in stone,” she said, although she acknowledged that in baseball, everything depends on the jobs that open up and the opportunities that arise. “I would love to be with the Rangers for a very long time.”
Joseph has no doubt his daughter has a bright future in baseball.
“She’ll run through a wall,” he said. “Nothing will stop her.”