FORT MYERS, Fla. — Andrea Hayden and Ian Kadish were deep into a job interview early last February. It was going about as smoothly as possible, but nearly an hour in, Kadish had yet to address the big question on Hayden’s mind.
Kadish, the Twins’ director of strength and conditioning, had been looking for a “rock star” strength coach to join his staff. Forty five minutes into their conversation, Kadish looked up at the time. Conversation had been flowing easily, and he had no clue they had been on the phone that long. He could tell Hayden was well-spoken and knowledgeable. She had come highly recommended, and he knew he had found what he had been looking for.
Hayden was sitting on the other end of the line. All but one of the questions had been asked and answered. Written on a note in front of her, she had jotted down, “Female?”
Kadish hadn’t brought it up, but Hayden felt like she needed to.
“Finally, he was like, ‘Do you have any other questions?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, you know I’m a girl right?’ jokingly, and he kind of laughed at me,” Hayden said. “I was like, ‘Do you think that’s going to be a problem? Do you see that being, like, the risk/reward? Is that worth it? Am I going to be more of a distraction than a help?’ ”
Kadish soothed all concerns and five days later, Hayden was in a car heading from her home in St. Louis to Fort Myers, Fla., leaving a stable job with benefits at Lindenwood University to take a fellowship with the Twins.
In November, after months of Kadish giving general manager Thad Levine and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey the “full-court press,” Hayden was hired as the Twins’ assistant strength and conditioning coach, the first female to hold that job in Major League Baseball history. By Kadish’s count, she’s also the first female coach in MLB history as she was hired before Alyssa Nakken joined Gabe Kapler’s staff in San Francisco.
But you would never know it by talking to Hayden.
“I think it kind of goes to her personality and demeanor. … She doesn’t blast it out to the world,” Kadish said. “But I have no problem doing that for her.”
An unorthodox path
Andrea Hayden describes her path to the majors as unorthodox. An athlete growing up, she enjoyed the weight room and training quite a bit. What she didn’t enjoy quite as much? School.
So, instead of going straight to college, she went into personal training. After years of that, combined with “odds-and-ends jobs,” she got a bit burnt out on working with soccer moms and started researching other ways to work with athletes.
That led her back to school, where got her bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Missouri Baptist University. She also earned a degree in human performance at Lindenwood. Internships brought her to the University of Louisville and EXOS in San Diego, and she also worked with China’s national women’s hockey team.
She was happily employed at Lindenwood as an athletic performance coach last year when an old colleague, Aaron Rhodes, set her next career move into motion with a phone call. They interned together at Lindenwood and kept in touch when Rhodes became the St. Louis Cardinals’ strength and conditioning coach.
When Rhodes phoned, Hayden had no clue that he was trying to connect her with a friend of a friend: Kadish.
“I put a lot of trust in (Rhodes), and thankfully he was right,” Kadish said. “She’s been everything that he said she was and even more.”
Taking a risk
After Kadish laid out his vision for the strength and conditioning staff, and she learned more about the organization and where it was heading, Hayden figured she’d be silly to pass up the opportunity. So she went with her gut, choosing “courage over what feels like a comfortable place.”
The move on paper felt like a step back, leaving a full-time job for a fellowship, but Hayden was determined not to make it so.
“It was like, ‘If I’m going to take this fellowship, it’s going to turn into a full-time job,’ ” she said. “Like, I’m not going to take it and feel like I took a whole year off and step backwards. So, I was going to do everything I could to want to serve the organization.”
Hayden fit in well immediately and quickly got to work building relationships.
Hayden calls the players her “brothers,” and forges bonds with them by talking to them about anything from their March Madness bracket to their kids in an effort to get them to trust her and buy into what she’s trying to teach them in the weight room.
While Kadish and Hayden share many of the same philosophies, their skill sets and personalities differ, giving players multiple perspectives when they step in the weight room.
“She’s fit in tremendously with our group. She’s got a great personality, she’s got great knowledge in her field, she’s adapted to the major league clubhouse it feels like effortlessly,” 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.”
Reliever Sergio Romo likens himself to a moth while Hayden is a bright light to which he’s drawn. He has never been a fan of the weight room, and certainly never been the buffest guy on his team. But needing some help, Romo turned to Hayden and Kadish to craft him a personal plan.
Romo credited Hayden for her ability to put herself at the level of any player. Whereas his teammates know what exercises have worked for them, and she can converse with them in what Romo described as “a different language,” she can also simplify things for him.
“She understands that I’m not going to be lifting the weights that other guys do, or I can’t do as many reps, maybe, yet she’s still there next to me pushing me, supporting me, letting me know I’m doing a good job or letting me know if I’m not doing a good job,” Romo said.
“She’s coaching me, she’s teaching me something at the age of 36. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I wouldn’t consider myself an old dog but in baseball, I’m kind of old so she’s still teaching me different things about myself, so that’s impressive.”
Plus, Romo noted, she does all this while trailblazing a path for women.
“She’s a good strength coach. That’s why she was hired. That’s why she’s here,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “I think it’s great she’s a bit of a trailblazer in that space as a female. … We have a number of people who come from different spaces, and I’m proud of the fact that we’ve hired who we thought was the best strength coach independent of anything else.”
When a recent feature on Kare 11 came out, players came over to tell her they had no idea about her spot in history. They wondered why she hadn’t mentioned it to them. That was great, Hayden responded, they weren’t supposed to know.
“I can build this ‘first female in the majors’ and guess what? There’s going to be another one hopefully soon and now what’s my story?” Hayden said. “I want to be attached to this organization because it’s an awesome organization and I’m proud to wear ‘Twins,’ and I’m proud to be here every day, and I want my success based on that.”