Pitch Series Premiere Recap: The Big Leagues


Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.
Kylie Bunbury as Ginny Baker. Photo: Tommy Garcia/FOX

Two years after Mo’ne Davis took the world by storm at the Little League World Series, television has finally made a show about women in baseball. It’s certainly been a long time coming: A League of Their Own captured pop culture’s attention in 1992, but in the decades since, similar stories have been few and far between. Thankfully, the wait is over. Pitch has arrived, and it’s fueled by girl power.

The pilot opens with Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) in her hotel room, as the camera lingers on her sleep-tousled hair and boyshorts-clad bum. Throughout the episode, we hear references to Ginny’s “big ole bubble butt” and there’s much ado about being able to smack her ass like any other player. The message is both unfortunate and clear: Pitch may be telling a story about a woman in baseball, but it’s still a boys’ club. This show is about a woman’s body in a man’s world.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Ginny began her journey to the San Diego Padres. When her father Bill (Michael Beach) can’t convince his son to show any interest in baseball, toddler Ginny steps up to the mound, surprising Bill with the strength of her pitch. Bill was tough on Ginny throughout her childhood, never allowing her to become too excited about her successes. Any time Ginny crows, “We did it, Pop” — a line that recurs again and again in each of the pilot’s flashback — her father grits, “We ain’t done nothing yet.” His tough love is meant to show there’s always more work to be done. Ginny wants her parent’s approval, like any child would, but he’s more concerned with her growing too complacent.

Back in her hotel room, Ginny’s first day with the San Diego Padres begins with a fancy arrangements of nectarines sent by boldfaced names like Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres. People think Ginny likes eating the fruit, but that’s not quite true: Her father used them to teach her how to throw a screwball. (The trick? She has to throw each nectarine without bruising it.) Bill told her she could never beat boys in strength or size, so she needed to rely on tricks. It was painful to hear Bill say that his daughter’s biology would prevent her from succeeding, but beneath his harsh coaching methods, he wants her to be the best.

As we quickly learn, Ginny will need all the help she can get. She chokes during her first start for the Padres, succumbing to the tremendous pressure of the moment. Yes, she knows she’s being used to sell tickets and merchandise, but she doesn’t want to disappoint the little girls in the crowd holding “I’m Next!” signs. She certainly isn’t calmed by the knowledge that her teammates resent her — especially the injured pitcher she’s replaced, Tommy Miller (Ryan Dorsey), a tobacco-chewer if ever there was one. He looks so scuzzy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses a racial slur within the next few episodes.

After her disastrous first start, Tommy calls Ginny a bitch. When her old friend and fellow Padres player Blip Sanders (Mo McRae) jumps in to defend her, Tommy accuses them of having slept together. The two men end up in a brawl — not the sort of thing that makes team owner Frank (Bob Balaban) happy. He’s already committed to Ginny, though: The money she’s bringing is such a huge boon, he’d rather fire team manager Al Luongo (Dan Lauria) if her presence continues to cause problems. Frank wants Al to accept the new world that Ginny represents, but if Al can’t get his team under control, he’s out the door.

Along with Blip and his wife, Evelyn (Megan Holder), Ginny forms an uneasy alliance with the team captain, Mike Lawson (a bearded Mark-Paul Gosselaar in full hot-daddy mode). Between quips about being too old for clubhouse drama, Mike manages to find time to deliver some snarky pep talks to Ginny so she’s able to make her second time on the mound count. With Mike’s advice in mind, she stops worrying about what she means to the world and instead focuses on herself and her team. She rides her famous screwball to a strong start, and when Al decides to call in a reliever, he lets her know she’ll be sticking around. Ginny’s dimples flash as she tips her cap to the cheering crowd. From the stands, Bill rewards her with a muted smile.

Or does he? During the episode’s closing flashback, a Padres scout approaches Ginny and her father shortly after her team wins the North Carolina state championship, and he tells them that the team is seriously interested in drafting her. She’s closer than ever to the big leagues. On the drive home, Ginny can barely contain her excitement, but as usual, her father insists there’s more work to do. Moments after he repeats his “ain’t done nothing yet” mantra, their car smashes head-on with oncoming traffic, jettisoning Bill through the windshield. He’s pronounced dead at the scene.

Cut to a montage of the last few days, as Ginny listens to her dead father’s coaching to motivate her. At the episode’s end, when Ginny tells Ghost Bill that they finally did it, a smile softens his usual retort. It’s a proud encouragement, not a harsh coaching device. In that moment, the pilot’s emotionally manipulative twist is almost forgivable. Sure, the idea is about as generic as they come, but for me, it was beside the point. I’m ready to watch Ginny take over the world.

What’s unforgivable, though, is the lack of black women in Ginny’s life. As Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones recently pointed out, baseball doesn’t have a lot of black people within its ranks, so it makes sense that Ginny doesn’t have any confidants aside from Blip. And when she lashes out at her father’s spirit for turning her into a friendless robot, it’s hard not to think of powerful black women like Beyoncé, who are frequently accused of being robotic just because they exhibit dedication and control. The women cheering for Ginny’s success are largely white women, with a smattering of women and girls of color added to the crowds. Getting nectarines from Hillary and Ellen is fine, but why not Oprah, too? Hello, Michelle Obama? Series creators Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer, who are both white, wrote this pilot, and they completely overlook the ways black women show up for other black women, especially in predominantly white environments. It’s an extremely common thing: Just look at the support around Venus and Serena Williams, or the way black actresses constantly uplift each other.

I know it’s only one episode, but Pitch has already dug itself into a hole. Consider Ginny’s mother, Janet (Chastity Dotson), whose presence in essentially amounts to being a silent, worried face in the crowd. Or how Blip frequently refers to Evelyn’s expensive spending habits, which almost certainly foreshadow some bad decisions. Or how Evelyn herself looks like she stepped off of Baseball Wives. Even the frequent comparisons to Jackie Robinson betray Pitch’s troubling lack of black women. Although the juxtaposition makes sense, why aren’t there mentions of Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, or Connie Morgan? Perhaps it’s wise to withhold judgment for a few more episodes, but Pitch is already struggling to recognize how the intersections of race and gender will affect Ginny. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Pitch Series Premiere Recap: The Big Leagues