FORT MYERS, Fla. — Andrea Hayden isn’t too accustomed to having Twins players upset with her. But she was thrilled about it.
Several players had seen Hayden featured in a television segment that highlighted her as the first female strength and conditioning coach in Major League Baseball, and they approached her in the weight room, aghast that they hadn’t already been aware of Hayden’s place in league history.
“How did we not know?” they asked her.
“I wear that as a badge because you’re not supposed to know,” Hayden said. “‘Good. I’m doing my job, because you shouldn’t be aware. You need to focus on what we’re doing and where we’re headed as an organization.'”
Hayden officially became a member of the Twins’ coaching staff last November, when strength and conditioning director Ian Kadish promoted her to assistant coach following a year-long fellowship during the 2019 season. Nobody was really aware of it at the time, but that made her not only the first female strength and conditioning coach in MLB history, but also the first full-time female member of a Major League staff.
It was only later on that Kadish and Hayden got curious and looked through the MLB staff directory to see if there was anyone else. There wasn’t. (Gabe Kapler and the San Francisco Giants have since hired Alyssa Nakken to their Major League staff.)
“OK, cool,” Hayden told Kadish. “Let’s move on. We have work to do.”
That workmanlike attitude defines how both Hayden and the Twins’ organization have approached this move. Kadish offered her the job because he saw her personality as a great fit on his staff and he felt a strong connection to her working philosophy. Kadish considers Hayden to be more of an expert than himself in Olympic lifts and has given her a lead role in the Twins’ performance-testing initiatives.
Hayden is here to contribute her knowledge to the championship push of a 101-win team, and that’s a responsibility she takes very seriously.
“She’s got a great personality, she’s got great knowledge in her field, and she’s adapted to the Major League clubhouse, it feels like effortlessly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It didn’t take very long for a lot of our players to come forward and say that they really enjoyed working with her, and it was a pretty straightforward, pretty easy decision for us to want to have her here and have her here full-time and do her thing, which is great.”
Hayden laughs as she reflects on what her life was like just one year ago, when she was very happy in her role as an athletic performance coach at Lindenwood University, near her hometown of St. Louis. Even without considering her budding Major League career, she’s the first to admit that her professional career has been anything but traditional.
Her interest in the field stemmed in part from her own experiences of looking for any competitive advantage when she played basketball, softball and soccer when she was young. (“I’m five-two-and-a-half with shoes on,” she says with a laugh.) Academics didn’t come easily to her, so she started her career as an 18-year-old as a physical trainer and managed some gyms around the St. Louis area until she “got burnt out of training soccer moms.”
That gave her important, hands-on experience with developing people skills and sharing her knowledge with a wide variety of people. When she found that she needed the scientific background to bring out her full potential in the field, she went to college at age 24 and emerged with degrees in exercise science and human performance. Her career has since seen stops at EXOS, the University of Louisville, USA Hockey and Team China Women’s Hockey.
“I think it’s just a love of what the weight room means and the power that it can have in the culture that is kind of driven out of that, where we work hard and we see the benefits of it on the field,” Hayden said. “And not to say that that’s everything, but it is something really powerful.”
One day last February, a former colleague, Aaron Rhodes, told her on the phone that a friend had an opportunity in baseball. He asked her to call and just to listen to what the friend had to offer. That friend was Kadish, and he and Hayden immediately had a strong connection as the pair discussed an opportunity with the Major League team.
Except, well, Hayden thought she was missing something.
“I remember being like, a third of the way into our conversation, he hadn’t brought up one time that I was a girl,” Hayden remembers. “And I’m like, ‘Does he not know?'”
“So, do you have any more questions?” Kadish asked at the end of the call.
“Yeah, like, I’m female,” Hayden recalls. “Where do you see that as being an issue or a problem?”
She remembers Kadish laughing.
“Look. Your job is the same as my job,” Kadish told her. “The only way it’s going to be difficult is if you do it differently than I do it. I’m not viewing it at all any differently than what I have to do.”
“He never once flinched at it,” Hayden said. “It never was an option. Like, it never was a disadvantage because of being a female. He only saw it as an advantage.”
Five days later, Hayden was in her car, driving down to Spring Training in Fort Myers. She left a full-time job with benefits and her hometown behind when she left Lindenwood for the fellowship with Kadish and the Twins.
“A personal motto is ‘courage over comfort,’ and choosing the things that maybe are unknown and scary and taking that leap,” Hayden said. “It’s always paid off. And I’m really fortunate that it has.”
It’s a reflection of Hayden’s personality and the seriousness with which she takes her role on a winning team that she’s never really looked to carry herself as any sort of figurehead — and there’s nothing about her day-to-day life that really makes her feel the need to do so. She calls the players her “brothers” and gives and takes friendly jabs with the best of them as she works the weight room.
She jokes that the only difference is that all of her team shirts are in men’s sizes.
“She wants to be low-key,” Kadish said. “She wants to lay low and do her job to the best of her ability and let her work speak for itself. I commend her for that in every aspect. I have no problem blowing her tires up and bumping her up, because she deserves it.”
“I think my success in my career, it’s secondary to [the players] and our success as a team, and I feel that I’m part of them,” Hayden said. “So I’d never want to make myself feel as if I have an individual platform. I have a platform with the Twins. And I really take that seriously. So every win, every loss, I wear that.”
Whether fairly or not, she knows the expectations for her — at least, looking from the outside in — might be higher than they would be for others in her position. She is aware that her success and how she carries herself in this position could open or close the door for other women to follow.
With that in mind, Hayden also said she feels that Kadish, Baldelli, the Twins’ organization and her network also deserve the acknowledgment for putting her in this position and giving her the well-deserved opportunity.
“I attribute a lot of it to a really powerful network of people,” Hayden said. “I’m so humbled that they put their name on me. I say I wear a jersey with a lot of people’s names on my back that have taken a risk on me, whether that was when I was 18 or currently in the big leagues. People have taken a risk to allow me to do what I love, and so I take that really seriously.”
Still, she’s careful to acknowledge the fact that other women around the industry may not have the strong base of support and understanding to facilitate such an easy transition into the industry. Hayden understands that there could be uphill battles and double standards for others in her position.
But that’s not the path she’s forged in the Twins’ organization. And for that, she remains encouraged — and grateful.
“It’s a direction that is obviously needed in the game, and one that nobody sits and stops, and really, it’s what times have evolved into, for the better,” said veteran starter Rich Hill.
“My story has just been awesome,” Hayden said. “And it’s so good and so supportive and being with all these dudes is awesome, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So that’s honestly the best part.”
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.