Dartmouth grad Smith blazed trail to Red Sox coaching job

  • Bianca Smith get under a fly ball as a player on the Dartmouth softball team in an undated photograph. (Dartmouth Athletics photograph)

  • Dartmouth’s Bianca Smith is congratulated by her teammates while crossing home plate in an April 30, 2011, game in Hanover, N.H. (Dartmouth Athletics - David Silverman) David Silverman Photography

  • Mark Washburn

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 10:07:00 PM
Modified: 1/18/2021 7:42:04 PM

HANOVER — The news of Bianca Smith’s hiring last week as a minor league coach in the Boston Red Sox organization, making her the first Black woman to serve in that role, wasn’t surprising to her old Dartmouth softball coach.

“I was just like, ‘Of course, of course she did it,’ ” Rachel Hanson said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Even back then (with the Big Green), it was so clear that she loved baseball and wanted to work in the bigs.

“If you had asked me to pick any kid I’ve ever coached going to the bigs, she would’ve been the one I picked because she was just so clear-eyed about it. Others would say they want to coach or whatever, but she was like, ‘No, I want to work in the bigs.’ ”

Speaking to a range of people who knew Smith during her days as a student in Hanover, it’s clear how driven she was to excel in the world of baseball.

She enrolled at Dartmouth in 2008, following in the footsteps of her parents. During her sophomore year, she emailed Big Green baseball coach Bob Whalen about joining the program as a team manager. All these years later, Whalen still remembers how well-written the note was.

“She just kind of reached out to me randomly with this really nice note asking is she could just come by introduce herself and chat,” said Whalen, who has been coaching in Hanover since 1990. “So she came by and we just had a conversation. The first thing I recall is she was just incredibly passionate about baseball. She just loved baseball; she wanted to talk about it, ask questions about coaching and things of that nature. And then it was just, ‘What can I do to help? Is there anything I can do?’ ”

As Smith’s relationship developed with Whalen, it was obvious to him how high of a baseball IQ she had. The two would talk about practice planning and developing a coaching philosophy. Whalen also remembers Smith as an authentic person, someone who would always wish his family well at the holidays.

Along with taking and cutting video of practices and hitting sessions, she worked in the press box with Rick Bender, Dartmouth’s longtime director of varsity athletics communications.

“A lot of time it was just working the scoreboard during games,” he recalled. “She had a good head for the game; she understood what was going on on the field. I didn’t have to really coach anything with her. Sometimes I get students that I have to tell them that’s a fielder’s choice, not a hit. That was never a problem with Bianca.”

Before attending Dartmouth, Smith played softball at Colleyville High School in Texas and was the team’s co-captain her senior year. She worked through some injuries her first two Dartmouth seasons, but by her junior year Whalen had introduced her to Hanson.

Smith went out for a tryout her junior year and made the softball team as a walk-on. In the 2011 season she made 17 game appearances, mainly used as a pinch runner, and tallied eight runs.

“Just a great team player,” said Hanson, who won the Big Green’s first Ivy League championship in 2014 before taking the same job at Stanford. “She was kind of the glue for the team in that sense, willing to do whatever was needed. One of the things she was good at … she would sit and try to pick signs. She actually had a pretty good knack for that.”

A hip injury held Smith back from playing her senior year, but she still attended practices and games to hang around the team. Softball and baseball weren’t the only activities she was involved in, however, as she was a member of the Dartmouth Sports Network and the Ivy Sports Business Network.

Smith was also a four-year member of the club cheerleading team, helping the team take off during its infancy.

“So driven,” said her former cheer coach, Josh Hartman. “Not that we wanted people to push through injury, but her tolerance to work through adversity and whatever that looks like (something I remember). Really persistent and genuinely, authentically kind. Just a really good person.”

Smith is a 2012 Dartmouth grad with a degree in sociology. In her new role she will be working with position players for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, the team’s rookie-level affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla.

“Look at the college coaching ranks; look at how many men are coaching on the women’s side, which is great, no problem,” said Hanson who lives in St. Louis and works for Built to Lead.

“Now go look how many women are coaching on the baseball side. It is a negligible number. Living in that world, I know how many barriers you face to get opportunities. And then the pressure on you to excel.

“You can’t fail because then that opportunity is closed for women for a while. All the pressure on your back, you got to deliver. It takes a relentless, determined, optimistic person to make it happen. It’s really impressive what some women, and Bianca’s one of them, are doing to knock down some of those barriers.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.

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