Raquel “Rocky” Egusquiza, Breaking Barriers in Sports
By Melissa Barrera
In the world of sports, it’s the athletes who get all the attention. Everyone remembers who scored the last-second touchdown, who made the buzzer-beater, or who hit the home run to win the big game. The athletes are the ones we see. But what about the people in the organization who spend just as much time as the athletes in making their team successful, those who make sure the organization is strong? Who are they? Why do they do what they do?
Raquel Egusquiza, “Rocky” as she’s called by friends and colleagues alike, is one such executive. As the Executive Director of the Miami Marlins Foundation and recently named Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Egusquiza is charged with ensuring the Marlins give back to the community that cheers for and supports them.
Born in Philadelphia, the nickname Rocky fit Egusquiza, who has much in common with the fictional character Rocky Balboa, the beloved underdog who overcame challenge after challenge to become world champ. As a young girl, Egusquiza accompanied her mother, a Cuban immigrant, to classes while studying to become a teacher. When her mother graduated, she walked the stage with her. It was her mother who would set the tone
for the rest of her life through her example of confronting challenges head-on, an example that she would follow.
When it was her turn to attend school, Egusquiza didn’t want to go. She told her mother, “I already graduated college.” Of course, her mother insisted, and kindergarten came calling. Rocky grew up speaking Spanish at her parents’ insistence. They thought she would be able to learn English once she attended school. Unfortunately, her teacher misdiagnosed Rocky’s inability to understand English as mental retardation. Her mother was told that Egusquiza would never be able to learn. However, she refused to accept that diagnosis and instead became her greatest advocate. While attending summer school, she had another teacher – one who realized that it was not mental retardation but a language barrier that prevented her from learning. That same teacher became her 1st grade teacher, and under her guidance, she learned English and began to thrive in the classroom.
After high school, Egusquiza earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Miami. Prior to her position with the Marlins, she served as Vice President of Community Affairs for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, Vice President of Multicultural Markets for AARP, and Director of Community Development and International Strategy for Ford Motor Corp. She also served as Director of Government Relations for South Florida and then Vice President of Legislative Affairs at AT&T as well as time as Executive Director for the Dade County Legislative Delegation and as a Legislative Assistant in the Florida Senate. With such an extensive background, it’s easy to wonder how someone with such a vast range of experience in politics, business, and the non-profit sectors end up in the world of professional sports? The answer is simple – her family. While she wasn’t involved in organized sports growing up, she spent much of her childhood focused on two staples in Hispanic households boxing and baseball. Some of her fondest memories include sitting at her grandmother’s feet as they watched what are now considered classic fights while her grandmother screamed at the television. Her connection to baseball came from time spent with her grandfather, a Cuban immigrant who refused to watch games on television and would instead listen to the games over the radio airwaves, much like he did as a child in Cuba. Egusquiza sat with him listening as he cursed out the players for missing a ball, striking out, or leaving a man on third.
As a woman in such a high position, Egusquiza often reflects on the question of whether or not women can be dedicated to both a career and a family.
“It’s not that you can’t have it all,” she shares. “The way we define ‘all’ shifts. It changes because our priorities shift and change.” She believes women experience pivotal moments in life that make us stop, pause, and rethink when evaluating next steps.
Early in her life, her focus was her career. After the passing of her mother, she experienced one such moment after one of her mother’s friends said to her, “You are your mother’s greatest legacy.” After dedicating so much of her life to her career, she realized that she had not lived her own personal life with the same intention as she placed on her career, so she made a shift and redefined her all. It became all about her family, and Rocky is now the proud mother of a three-year-old son Julian.
While her focus has shifted, she hasn’t slowed down any. She’s just found a way to keep everything in perspective, and that means working for an organization whose values line up with hers where she can utilize all of the experience she has gathered throughout her career.
At the Marlins, Egusquiza has found a place she can make a difference, both locally and in the world at large through sports. It’s through the Marlins Foundation’s work with young people that she hopes to make the strongest impact.
“Through our foundation, our baseball and softball programs, our youth not only focus on the physical fitness aspect of sport but also on social and emotional learning,” she shares. “Kids are learning courage, how to fail and get back up, teamwork, and time management. The skillset that these kids are learning is incredible.”
She goes on to say, “Studies show that sports participation strengthens leadership potential. Whether these young athletes choose to continue in sports, or they chose to do something else in life, the skills they are learning…are going to be invaluable for their career in the future.”
Egusquiza is also proud to be working for an organization “whose ownership group is committed to a diverse and inclusive work environment” and is a leader in diversity at the top levels of the organization. Three of the four top executives within the Marlins organization are filled by minorities, including the first female general manager in MLB history. Her goal is to continue that trend by further developing the pipeline of opportunities for women and minorities – from internships to entry-level positions to senior director positions and up through the highest levels of the organization – that is already in place in the Marlins organization. And while the Marlins are leading the charge to inclusivity, she is excited about what is to come, not just with the Marlins but in professional sports in general. She believes that filling roles with women builds awareness to the female talent that is out there, which will lead to more opportunities for women in sport.
“Women are raising the bar each and every day,” she shares. “So really the sky is the limit. Everyone’s looking and asking, ‘Ok, what’s next?’”
Sarah Garcia, Foundation & Community Initiatives Director at Miami Marlins, L.P. is one Latina that has worked with Egusquiza. Garcia describes her as one of the hardest working women she knows, “She is relentless,” she shares. “She is a forward thinker, she empowers others to develop their leadership skills. She embodies honest authenticity. She is always available to give guidance and work through problems together. She has mentored me to think outside the box. Her guidance inspires me to give my best self. She instills confidence in the choices I make. Her example as a leader has helped me manage those I lead.”
When asked what advice she has for women who are looking to enter the world of professional sports, Egusquiza says, “Follow your passion. Whatever it is you’re passionate about, tie it to sports. If you stick to your passion, you’re going to be successful. Looking back at my journey, when I stuck to my passion, when I’ve been authentic and aligned to my values, that’s always when I’ve been most successful, and everything else falls into place.”
Egusquiza recently took her three-year-old son Julian to his first t-ball game. Much like her grandparents and parents, she was able to share her love of sport with her son. By the looks of things, everything has fallen into place for her. You may not know her name, but she’s definitely knocked this one out of the park.