Pitch, the new scripted baseball drama on Fox that tells the story of the MLB’s first female pitcher, Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury). After being trained and groomed by her father, Ginny was scouted and came up through the minor leagues with the San Diego Padres, and the pilot opens on the morning of her first major league start.
Baseball feelings follow.
If you are a person who loves baseball, you will like this show–it’s funny, it’s quick, it’s poignant, and it’s devoted to its characters. Ginny’s the A story, sure, but there’s also her manager, Amelia (played by Ali Larter), her minor league teammate Blip (Mo McRae) and his wife, Evelyn (Meagan Holder), the Padres owner (Bob Balaban!), her father (Michael Beach), her brother, and my favorite of favorites, ZACH MORRIS HIMSELF as the team’s aging catcher, Mike Lawson. Amelia sought Ginny out after her marriage exploded to give her life meaning, Mike is clinging to his career and mourning his own failed marriage, the dad from The Wonder Years is about to get fired as the team’s manager for pigheadedly “well-meaning” sexist remarks–Pitch has a deep bench, is what I’m saying.
Mark-Paul Gosselar is UNRECOGNIZEABLE. Maybe it’s the beard, the lack of bleach, the absence of a giant cellphone, but he won me over before I even realized who he was. He’s sincere and open as a narcissistic war horse who nonetheless becomes one of Ginny’s allies(and channels the somewhat inevitable implicit romantic tension he and Ginny have into an hook up with her manager, whoops). He’s still the jackass from math class who makes you laugh despite yourself
And surrounding it all are little girls and young women, watching from the stands, tearing up as they reach for autographs, screaming and cheering and watching. This show is anchored in the gaze of the young women looking for their place in baseball–and existing, as it does, in the real world where Jessica Mendoza is giving women a presence in the playoffs, and Kelsie Whitmore, 17, and Stacy Piagno, 25 are making history, it is giving us a glimpse of what’s to come.
It doesn’t sugarcoat it–Ginny has to contend with scrutiny, hostility, and her own doubts. Just like Jessica Mendoza deals with constant twitter abuse and men who cannot handle the sound of a woman’s voice explaining things about baseball. When we first meet Ginny in the pilot, she’s focused and detached and cooler-than-life, and then we see her go through a day of media circus and her first major league start (and meltdown), and battler her way back for a second start. She’s human. She’s fiery and warm and cool and vulnerable. Pitch will not pretend this is easy. It would be insulting if they did (not to mention bad television to start with a triumph and just…keep triumphing. Rocky I had to happen before Rocky IV could end the Cold War, you know?). And the world of sports fans and sports media is both exultant and devastating–as are her teammates.
Women know this about sports. We know that the sports world simultaneously mocks us for not joining in and resents us when we do. We’re supposed to be the arm candy that ferries snacks and beer to the man cave and only blocks the TV if it’s on a commercial. Sure, women trounced the male athletes in the Olympic medal count, and women’s soccer is so much better than men’s soccer that if the gender was reversed every player’s name would be a household one, and female athletes have been leading a wave of support for Kaepernick’s protests. But somehow this myth that women are not capable of playing or interested in or relevant to sports persists.
Pitch has the potential to be an essential step in dismantling that fiction. This show is so good because it acknowledges the real world dynamics that women face in male-dominated sports and models how a woman can face them, withstand them, change the tide. AND it acknowledges the range of tools that we’ll need to do it.
My favorite scene in the pilot is when Ginny finally meets Mike Lawson on the field, who she idolized as a kid. They engage in ballplayer banter–“Would it be inappropriate to say you might be the second prettiest teammate I’ve ever had,” “It would. Second prettiest?” “Yeah I was in this charity softball game with DiCaprio. Beautiful eyes.” and he slaps her ass. She challenges him and cites her own credentials to shut him down. He fires back that he “is an ass slapper” and if she’s on the team, he’ll treat her like he treats everyone. She has a choice here. She has to negotiate the Scylla and Charybdis of the power dynamics, take the hazing or reject the hazing, be Cool vs be Angry, and know that whichever she chooses it’s a compromise.
And she pauses. “Young DiCaprio or Old DiCaprio. Young DiCaprio fine, he’s probably prettier than me, but Old DiCaprio looks like a fish.”
I love how she pivots to somewhere in between. They could have made it one-note, or hokey, or humiliating, or focused on the teammates watching. But instead it’s all about her and Lawson finding their footing. And then she slaps his ass on the way out.
Pitch is thoughtful, and well-written, and tackles rape culture in sports, and gives us our Triumph of the Human Spirit tears, and our I Sucked at Kickball feels, and our Baseball mood swings (made all the more intense by the DEVASTATING events of Wednesday’s game. Whatever. Baseball sucks).
But now I have Pitch! and I can love it for as many episodes as Fox gives us. If you’re not watching, you should be.