Two female baseball players made history this spring when they signed on as pitchers for the minor-league Sonoma Stompers, which became the first team to go co-ed since the Negro Leagues in the ’50s. There’s nothing biological holding women back from the majors. But the only place we’ll get to see a female athlete in the Major League anytime soon is Pitch, the crowd-rousing new drama premiering tonight (September 22) on Fox. The opening hour never met a sports-movie cliché it didn’t love, but they’ll land exactly where they should: right down the middle of your brain’s pleasure center.
A luminously lit Kylie Bunbury stars as Ginny Baker, the San Diego Padres’ newest pitcher. She throws in the high 80s (as in miles per hour) — a speed that wouldn’t earn her a spot on the team without a curveball. The pilot seems a tad anxious about giving Ginny too much of a personality, though we learn that she’s capable of standing up for herself and that she’s still resentful that her dad (Michael Beach) tried to live his dream of playing in the majors through her. She watches, as we do, her terrifying agent (a quippy Ali Larter) protect her; her team captain (an even quippier Mark-Paul Gosselaar) reassure her (at least when he knows she’s listening); and little girls beaming at her wherever she goes, holding up signs like, “I’M NEXT.”
Though heartwarming, much of the pilot feels like items to check off before we can get to the rest of the show. Some of Ginny’s teammates write her off as a one-season “gimmick” before she’s even hit the field, and the benched pitcher (Ryan Dorsey) she’s replacing decides he needs to say some shitty stuff to her face. The pressures of not just performing on a national stage, but paving the way for other girls and women while single-handedly representing her gender, proves temporarily crushing. There’s never any doubt that Ginny will stand back up and dust herself off, but we still feel the heat of her embarrassment as her nerves betray her and her hand refuses to cooperate with her overloaded brain.
Ginny’s given the number 43 — one after Jackie Robinson’s 42. But the show knows that race isn’t gender, and it immediately raises the question of how separate can still be equal. What kind of locker room should Ginny be entitled to? And should Gosselaar’s Mike be allowed to pat Ginny’s behind the way he does to every other teammate? (It’s probably a funny coincidence that Ginny landed at the only MLB team with a gender-specific name.) The phrase “it’s 2016” is repeated several times in the first episode, with the implication that the milestone Ginny made happen should already be old news and that her teammates are expected to act accordingly. But with the hiring of Ginny’s social-media manager (Tim Jo), it’s a fair guess that a bunch of whiny babies on the internet are gonna try their hardest to make the world spin backward.
Pitch features a couple of other familiar faces, like Mark Consuelos and Dan Lauria, playing the Padres’ general manager and coach, respectively. Ginny is immediately able to let her guard down around one guy on her team: Blip (Mo McRae), a player she trained with for years. But I was more happy to see Ginny with a female friend (and Blip’s wife), Evelyn (Meagan Holder), whose presence frees the athlete from her mask of stoic pioneering to finally just be a woman. It was a small glimpse at what Pitch needs to stay compelling: a heroine who feels human.