“Pitch”, FOX’s new hour-long drama, premiered last night. It was a strong first episode, both dramatic and entertaining. It presents a likable yet complex protagonist in Ginny Baker (played by actress Kylie Bunbury), while also introducing us to a supporting cast that has the potential to be compelling.
What follows is a recap of the show. As such, there are spoilers below, so consider yourself warned if you haven’t set seen the first episode.
We join Ginny as she’s getting ready to head to Petco Park for her major-league debut. A 23-year-old right-handed screwball pitcher who’s been in the Padres organization for five years, she is laser focused on mentally preparing for her spot start, uninterested in any outside distractions. Accompanied by her agent, Amelia Slater (Ali Larter) and social-media manager, Eliot (Tim Jo), she’s greeted by throngs of excited fans waiting for her outside of the ballpark.
Ginny appears to have a realistic view of the reception she’s likely to receive from her teammates. “Seventy-five percent think I’m the next San Diego Chicken,” she tells Frank (Bob Balaban), the team’s owner. “The other 25 just want to see me shower.” She speaks from experience — after all, this isn’t the first time she’s been the only woman on a team.
Sure enough, in the Padres clubhouse, there’s an uneasiness amongst Ginny’s new teammates. The team’s manager, Al Luongo (Dan Lauria), instructs his players to treat Ginny like they would any other teammate. “Remember, this is a spot starter called up from Triple-A to start a game for us… No special treatment.”
When Ginny walks into the clubhouse, she’s greeted by Blip (Mo McRae), a former minor-league teammate and current star player. A familiar face is a welcome sight for Ginny, since not everyone seems so keen on her being there.
Frank then shows Ginny to her locker, which has been set up in the clubhouse attendants’ room (much to Amelia’s chagrin). There, Ginny sees her jersey for the first time. “Forty-three?” Ginny asks. “One up from Jackie,” Frank notes with a smile. “We thought it was fitting.”
At her introductory press conference, Ginny displays her jersey for photographers and answers questions from reporters. She seems mostly poised, nervously joking that there’s “one or two more of you, maybe” than in the minors. A small but noteworthy detail is that the ratio of men to women covering Ginny’s debut seems fairly even. Baseball journalism has long been a male-dominated field, but that’s changing, and it’s refreshing to see “Pitch” support that.
Once in uniform, Ginny heads to the field and introduces herself to her catcher, Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). Mike slaps Ginny’s rear, and Ginny takes exception. “You think you’re the first teammate to slap my ass to get a laugh from his friends?” Mike doesn’t take kindly to being told what not to do and explains that this is how he treats all of his teammates, letting her know, “I am an ass slapper, rookie.” Ginny seems to get Mike’s message, and they part ways, but not before Ginny returns the favor.
It’s an uncomfortable scene, and it’s intended to be. It’s supposed to make the viewer consider a number of things. Things like, can Ginny really be treated just like anyone else on the team while still wanting to be treated somewhat differently because of her gender? Does an act that would constitute sexual harassment in just about any other context not regarded as such here? In this viewer’s opinion, if Ginny doesn’t want Mike to slap her butt, then he shouldn’t — and the same goes for all of their teammates. Some people like personal boundaries. (In Mike’s defense, he later acknowledges this when someone else tries it.)
In addition to having a locker separate from the main clubhouse, the Padres have provided Ginny with her own bathroom. As she’s washing up, she overhears some of her teammates, including Mike, discussing her. “She’s a gimmick,” Mike sneers. “She’s the dwarf who played for the St. Louis Browns” (an allusion to Eddie Gaedel). Even though Ginny had expected that sort of attitude, she’s understandably taken aback when she actually hears the sentiment voiced out loud.
When game time comes, Ginny walks the first Dodgers batter she faces on four consecutive pitches, none of which are especially close. It doesn’t get better from there, and it doesn’t help that Ginny now doesn’t trust her catcher. She winds up begging to be taken out of the game, and exits after having thrown just 10 pitches, not one of them a strike.
Ginny sulks about her performance for the rest of the day. “The little girls need to find someone else to count on,” she tells Amelia. “And you probably should, too.”
Ginny’s father, Bill, comes to visit her in her hotel room. From the flashbacks we’ve seen, we know that Bill has always had oppressively high expectations for his daughter. Indeed, he is not happy with her now, but Ginny’s even more upset with him. “I was just a little girl. I never asked for any of it. You chose it for me,” she tells him, fighting back tears.
Bill is unmoved. He wants her to get her glove and pitch to him. “You threw 10 pitches. How tired can you be?” Ginny relents and throws a late-night bullpen session with her father.
Luckily, she is going to get a second chance. The Padres realize that sending her back to the minors could be disastrous for the franchise. “It’s one thing to be the team that called up the first woman,” says Oscar, the team’s general manager (Mark Consuelos). “It’s another thing to be the team that picked the wrong woman, and turned this whole thing into a disaster.”
The Padres are rewarded for their decision when Ginny’s second start goes much more smoothly, thanks in part to an effective pep talk from Mike. This time around, she allows just three runs in 6.1 innings as the Padres beat the Giants, 4-3.
Ginny’s celebratory period would be short. Another Padres pitcher, Tommy (Ryan Dorsey), is bitter about Ginny taking his spot in the rotation. He warns Ginny that the league is going to catch on to “her little trick pitch” and that, when they do, she’ll be “no more than the answer to a trivia question.” When she is unfazed, he punctuates their exchange by calling her a bitch.
That’s when Ginny loses her cool. She has a few choice words for Tommy, and their teammates, Blip included, have to intervene. When Tommy suggests that Blip and Ginny must have slept together, Blip attacks. The fight is broken up quickly, but the tension of the situation is now out in the open.
The “Pitch” premiere has flashback sequences throughout, mostly focusing on the relationship between Ginny and her father, Bill, and how he taught her to pitch. In one scene, he teaches her to throw a screwball with nectarines (although many have noted that the grip he shows her is for a circle change, not a screwball). The first few flashbacks seem somewhat cliched, accompanied by saccharine background music. But the sequences grow more intense, as we see that Bill’s coaching and parenting tactics verge on abusive. The final flashback scene delivers a heartwrenching twist: Bill died six years ago in a car crash, with Ginny in the car. The pilot ends with Ginny imagining what her father might say to her if he was here now, and it’s something she’s heard from him before, only this time, it’s said with a grin: “We ain’t done nothin’ yet.”
As with any fictional portrayal of sport, a challenge for “Pitch” is to combine an authentic representation of the game with the demands of plot development — which, in this case, entertains the possibility of a woman playing major-league baseball. Speaking as a hardcore baseball fan who’s also a woman, “Pitch,” thus far, has done a good enough job when it comes to meeting that challenge. Although baseball diehards might not agree with every choice that’s been made about Ginny, the show, as a whole, doesn’t require too much in the way of suspension of disbelief — certainly no more than, say, a movie about long-dead baseball players emerging from cornfields.
Beyond that, there’s a lot about “Pitch” that feels authentic. It’s pretty easy to believe that you’re watching real major-league teams play each other when they’re playing in an actual MLB ballpark and wearing uniforms with actual MLB logos. The fact that “Pitch” features real broadcasters (Joe Buck and John Smoltz) and features real sports media personalities (Katie Nolan, Colin Cowherd, Matt Vasgersian and Ken Rosenthal) further lends the show an air of realism.
When I first watched the “Pitch” premiere at a special advance screening at Dodger Stadium, I joked on Twitter that it was unrealistic to show a Petco Park crowd chanting “Let’s go Padres” when the Dodgers are there. (It’s not referred to as Dodger Stadium South for nothing). Honestly, though, aside from the rather egregious issue with the grip, the other believability issues are minor.
I like baseball-related art to be believable, but I don’t necessarily expect it to be entirely realistic. I have actual baseball for that. “Pitch” is doing something different — and something important in its own way. “Pitch” envisions a world where, at long last, women and girls who love baseball — and perhaps even some who don’t — have a hero to whom they can look at the sport’s highest level and in whom they can see themselves.
More than that, though, “Pitch” shows a world where women are very present in baseball, as fans and as journalists. That’s a really cool thing, whether or not you believe a woman will ever actually play in the majors. Representation matters, and I mean that both for the fictional universe in which “Pitch” exists, and for our real universe which hasn’t yet crossed this bridge.