Retroactive Review: Pitch

Pitch has been a thrill ride in its first season.

Pitch has been a thrill ride in its first season.

This edition of Retro Reviews will be looking at Fox’s new baseball-centric television drama, Pitch. The show is the brainchild of Dan Fogelman, screenwriter of animated Hollywood blockbusters such as Tangled and Cars, and is centered on the rise of a young pitcher—a black woman named Ginny Baker who becomes the first woman to pitch in professional baseball. The show follows the ups and downs of Ginny’s young career as she navigates a tumultuous landscape filled with skeptical and even downright hostile male teammates, aggressive reporters and well-intentioned but off-base managers and agents.

Read Sarah Wexler’s “Pitch” Recaps at FanGraphs

Pilot: The Right Woman for the Job

Episode 2: Ginnsanity

Episode 3: Unwritten Rules

Episode 4: #PutHerInTheGame

Episode 5: Trade Deadline

Episode 6: Worn Out

Episode 7: The Body Issue

Episode 8: Rain Delay

Episode 9: Farewell, Mike?

Ginny is the daughter of a former minor league pitcher, Bill Baker, who was never able to make it to the majors and then dedicates his life to getting Ginny there. Bill is a strict, demanding father and coach—and even abusive, as he is shown striking Ginny’s brother to motivate her to keep pitching. It becomes clear early on that pitching is more Bill’s dream for Ginny than Ginny’s dream. However Ginny can’t quit playing even though she’s not really sure she wants to be doing this. The story with her father plays out mostly through flashbacks, as we learn early on in the season that Bill is in fact, deceased.

The internal and external pressure Ginny feels comes to a head in the sixth episode of the season, “Wear It.” Told in a non-linear style, the episode opens with Ginny meeting a team psychologist in the aftermath of a yet-to-be-revealed incident. As the episode unfolds, it’s revealed that Ginny has just inked a major, exclusive deal with Nike and the company plans an extravagant gala to announce the launch. The pressure and the expectations start weighing on Ginny and she suffers a panic attack, calling on her agent Amelia for help. Later in the episode, Ginny ditches the Nike gala altogether and impulsively bolts with a waitress she’s only just met.

It’s exciting and exhilarating to watch Ginny having fun with and bonding with women her own age—at first—until the cracks start to show, and the audience soon realizes Ginny is in trouble. In one of the most intense moments on the show, Ginny is shown a video clip of herself, breaking down and sobbing in a bathtub as all the pressure of being the first woman in the major leagues finally comes crashing down on her. The moment Ginny is confronted with the video of her breakdown is utterly heartbreaking, and actress Kylie Bunbury captivates with a stunning performance. The episode also manages to subtly highlight and draw parallels between Ginny and her catcher, Mike Lawson, who faces his own moment of reckoning in this episode.

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Lawson is a player who’s poured every bit of himself into baseball, starting at a young age. His single-minded devotion to baseball has wrecked his marriage and doesn’t leave much room for a life away from the diamond. He attempts a relationship with Ginny’s agent, Amelia, but that ends rather quickly when Amelia points out to Mike that he wasn’t really invested in it. Lawson’s a lonely man living an insular existence—when Ginny Baker barges in and disrupts his life.

The previous episodes have subtly underscored the loneliness and yearning for connection these characters experience, but “Wear It” really lays it out as a desperate and drunk Lawson crashes the dinner party of his ex-wife and her new fiancé, and Ginny blows off her gala to party with a bunch of strangers she’s just met.

The most recent episode of the show pushes Ginny and Lawson even closer toward an invisible line, prompting the audience to wonder what the season finale has in store for these two and their relationship. If you haven’t been paying much attention, the potential romantic pairing comes completely out of left field. Close watchers will know that it’s previously been hinted at or danced around. Either way, there’s no more ignoring it after “Scratched.” The pair are definitely about to kiss when general manager Oscar Arguella inconveniences them with a very important phone call, setting the ball rolling in advance of the finale.

The show laid the groundwork for this moment between Ginny and Mike early in the season. What’s particularly interesting is it’s mostly been explored through Lawson’s character. Lawson is shown looking possibly upset while Ginny dances with members of their team at a club, Lawson struggles with whether to call her when he’s feeling lonely, Lawson is shown looking at Ginny with thoughtful fondness and affection. It would be too easy to write it off as one-sided affection, with how close Ginny plays her cards to her vest, but the show’s been giving us clues about her feelings too.

The refreshing thing about this potential romance is that it’s solely up to Ginny whether or not the relationship will progress. When Ginny and Mike have their moment outside the bar and share an intimate hug, Lawson is clearly waiting for her to make the first move, to either pull him in or push him away. The ball is firmly in her court. This is in perfect contrast to Ginny’s other potential love interests, an ex-boyfriend ballplayer named Trevor and most recently, a tech billionaire, Noah. Noah comes across as nice and sweet, but pushy, not taking no for an answer after Ginny initially shoots him down for a date. He continues to pursue her, sending her goofy messages. The only reason she agrees to go out with him is because one of her teammates innocently mentions everyone notices how close she and Lawson are.

One of underlying themes of the show has been control. Ginny has never really been in control of her own life. She was pushed into baseball by an overbearing father at the age of two, and asked by him to make impossible choices as a teenager. This theme of agency is further underscored with Ginny’s agent, Amelia. Amelia micromanages and controls Ginny’s image, ordering her not to speak about a sexual assault case publicly, undermining her by not issuing a statement of support for manager Al Loungo after it’s revealed he made a sexist comment about Ginny in the past, writing out a $20,0000 check to her brother Will, and sending him away to keep him from being a distraction to Ginny before a start.

When Ginny has her breakdown in “Wear It,” she is finally forced to ask the question she’s been afraid to ask: ‘what if I don’t want to keep playing baseball?’ As Rita Wilson’s psychiatrist character points out, the world didn’t end after she said that. (This theme of choices is underscored in “The Break,” too, when Ginny’s mom offers her an out, telling her to come to her if it gets too hard for her and she doesn’t want to do it anymore. In this incident, Ginny gets pushed by her father to choose baseball, rather than Ginny making the choice herself.)

In “Wear It,” Ginny admits that she can’t really quit because so many people are relying on her to play, but even just asking the question is acknowledging that it’s her choice: that Ginny could choose to keep playing, or she could choose not to. And she’s choosing to play.

This brings us back to that scene in the most recent episode, “Scratched,” and the theme of choices, agency, control. Ginny has so infrequently been allowed to control her own choices that it’s so important Mike waits for her to make the move. It also helps rebalance the potential power disparity between them; he is a superstar veteran on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and Ginny is just a rookie fifth starter, a division he’s previously emphasized. Lawson is a person who’s been told by his ex-wife that he only likes to chase; he doesn’t like to have. If Lawson were to chase Ginny and pursue her, that moment wouldn’t resonate. Instead, Ginny is the one who makes the conscious choice to disregard her personal rule—“I don’t date players”—and move closer. The only thing that keeps them from kissing is Oscar’s phone call. What will the finale have in score for the two, now that Lawson is staying with the team and they’ve put the walls back up?

Pitch has done a really good job at peeling back the layers, at revealing their characters a piece at a time. Lawson is presented initially as the “asshole veteran” who bosses the rookies around. His introduction to Ginny involves him posturing with her, asserting his superior place in the locker room hierarchy, and slapping her on the butt. Lawson calls himself a narcissist and it would be easy to take him at face value—but he’s also a man who came from a broken home, lost his marriage because baseball has always come first, and still has lingering feelings for the ex-wife who cheated on him because baseball always came first. Luongo, the manager who makes several missteps with Ginny at first, evolves from somewhat sexist and paternalistic to genuinely caring and concerned, and firmly in Ginny’s corner.

The show does so much right that it’s hard to pick out things that fall flat or feel like missed opportunities. One moment that really stands out is a scene in the “Wear It” episode, when Amelia breaks things off with Mike and tells him he needs to figure out where his head’s been. The breakup seemed a bit sudden, though nothing Amelia tells Lawson in that scene feels untrue; he has been shown to be somewhat hung up on his ex, and then there’s the underlying current of romantic tension between Lawson and Ginny that Lawson seems unwilling to acknowledge and Amelia seems unaware of. Perhaps the feeling of abruptness is because in the previous episode, Mike and Amelia’s relationship gets outed to several people within the Padres’ circle (who also happen to be close to Ginny). The only other things that nagged at me are fairly minor annoyances, like Mike and Ginny referring to “calling off” pitches or being “called off” rather than “shaking off” or being “shaken off.”

Another potential missed opportunity is the intersection of race and gender, as far as Ginny is concerned. While the show has occasionally touched on Ginny’s race, bringing up references to historical figures such as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, it doesn’t really delve into how race and gender intersect in Ginny’s life. It’s almost as if the show exists in a slightly better alternate universe than our own, where Ginny’s race isn’t the most noticeable thing about her, where she doesn’t get bombarded by racist and sexist insults and slurs. This could be a reflection of the fact the character wasn’t initially written to be a black woman; there have indeed been more references to Ginny’s race as the season has progressed.

Ginny is viewed by the show as attractive and desirable; various characters have shown an interest in her, such as her ex-boyfriend Trevor, some of the background characters and, perhaps most notably, Lawson. She’s admired by those around her, adored by her fans, and welcomed into the baseball fraternity after a few early hiccups. While I would hate to see a wonderful character like Ginny attacked and mistreated, the absence of any hints of racism, racially-motivated sexism, or bias do throw me out of the narrative from time to time. On the other side, I really appreciate how diverse the show is, from the characters to the people behind the scenes. Executive producer Paris Barclay responded to a fan tweet, confirming that the show has a higher percentage of non-Hispanic black players than real-life major league baseball (these days about 8.5 percent of players are black).

Another criticism of the show I’ve seen is Ginny’s apparent naïveté when it comes to roster moves. She seems distressed by the potential loss of Blip, to the point she tries to interfere with the front office to keep her friend from being traded, but surely she would have seen other players get traded or moved up and down the organizational ladder rung as a minor leaguer. While this criticism has some weight, I think it overlooks a fundamental part of Ginny’s character: she has major trust and abandonment issues, and Blip isn’t merely another teammate.

Blip Sanders—and, by extension, his wife Evelyn and their children—are presented as a surrogate family for Ginny, who lost her father, has no relationship with her mother and sees her brother infrequently. She has family dinners with the Sanders family, watches the children, and spends time with them when she isn’t holed up in her lonely hotel room. So while her reaction to Blip possibly being traded is out of line—and she’s reminded of that when Oscar, Blip, and Evelyn snap at her for getting herself involved, and she’s forced to take a step back—there are very good reasons for that, as we find out over the course of the episode. Understanding Ginny’s trust and abandonment issues are vital to understanding her as a character.

Pitch is a TV show as much about relationships and connections as it is about baseball. One of the central relationships to the show is that of Blip and Evelyn Sanders. Blip is a teammate of Ginny’s who played with her in the minors. To this point, Blip and Evelyn are the only pair depicted on the show to have a happy, stable home life. Both Ginny and Mike came from broken families; Ginny’s father died when she was a teenager and she doesn’t have a strong relationship with her mother, while Mike was raised by his single mom and kept from having a relationship with his biological father. Mike himself has a broken marriage of his own in the rearview mirror. Amelia, Ginny’s agent, was dumped by her husband after their were unable to conceive a child together, and her romance with Lawson was superficial and short-lived. Blip and Evelyn are a sweet counterpoint to the broken relationships those around them have endured. Even when they’re at odds and fight, the love they have for each other always shines through.

This show also does friendships really well, highlighted by the bond between Ginny and the Sanders family, and the relationship between Ginny and Amelia that straddles the line of both professional and personal. This division is emphasized artfully in the episode “Wear It,” when Lawson’s romantic relationship with Amelia causes both of them friction with Ginny, and leads to Lawson overstepping the line during a baseball game. While many fans of a romantic pairing for Ginny and Lawson (“Bawson”) took Ginny’s discomfort with the relationship to stem from jealousy, it becomes apparent as the episode progresses that she’s not okay with Mike learning personal facts about her from Amelia. The episode—and conflict—is soon neatly resolved with the dissolution of Mike and Amelia’s romance.

Ginny’s also developed platonic friendships with some of her teammates, like Lawson, Tommy Miller and Livan Duarte, and there is a hope that if the show gets picked up for a second season, those friendships can be given space to flourish. Another friendship I hope we see more of in a hypothetical second season is that with Cara, the waitress who appears in “Wear It.” Ginny impulsively runs off from a Nike gala with Cara, and the two quickly bond, leading some fans to wonder if a romantic relationship could blossom between them.

Romance or no, it would be a missed opportunity for Pitch not to bring Cara back. In that episode Cara serves as the catalyst, her friendship and concern prompting Ginny to admit she needs help. Ginny doesn’t appear to have any female friends around her own age; she and Evelyn are close friends, but Evelyn is older, and from a different circle as Ginny. And, while Ginny is obviously close to Amelia and appreciative of her, Amelia is still essentially her employee. Unless Amelia stops representing Ginny, the two will probably never quite move beyond the athlete/agent bond. Cara could fill that lack of female social relationships in Ginny’s life.

The really great thing about this show is that you don’t have to be a hardcore baseball fan to care about the characters or be invested in the interpersonal drama. The story Pitch is telling is a universal, relatable one built on family (biological family and families of choice), loneliness and abandonment, trust and our yearning for a profound connection with someone else.

Pitch consistently garners critical acclaim, but low ratings, and the network hasn’t given an indication whether the show, which goes up against Thursday Night Football in the 9 p.m. time slot, will be renewed. Fans have set up trending events on Twitter, tagging and tweeting at official accounts, in the hopes of generating interest (#PitchPlease is a popular hashtag). The show will air its first season finale tonight.


Alexandra Simon is a pragmatic but somewhat rabid Detroit Tigers fan who enjoys candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. Follow her on Twitter @catswithbats, and also @glasshalffulmer, where she also tweets about baseball.
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J caruso
Guest
J caruso

Great review. I guess I need to put this on my play list!!!!! Thanks.

catswithbats
Guest

You should! It’s a good show! You can watch all the episodes on Hulu.

mktoronto
Guest
Great article. I hope it gets more people into the show. You made a particularly good point about agency. I’ve liked her with Noah because I like how he brings out the fun side of Ginny, he’s age appropriate, and he has nothing to do with baseball. I also hate the idea of Bawson. However, I’m a fan of agency and you are correct, Noah was being pushy there (I do give him marks for at least being aware that he was) and that’s not behaviour I’d encourage in real life. Something for me to think about. I too want… Read more »
catswithbats
Guest

//However, I’m a fan of agency and you are correct, Noah was being pushy there//

If you’ve seen the finale, I think your points about Noah and agency were addressed .

As for Ginny and Mike, if we get another season, I think that potential romance is on the back burner. I don’t mind the relationship in theory—the show has answered most of the questions/concerns I had about that potential pairing—but I wouldn’t be a fan of it happening while both are still playing.

bucdaddy
Guest
bucdaddy
This reminds me that I once had an idea for a show or movie about the first woman in MLB. Pretty much the entirety of the idea was that baseball’s time frame would allow her to get pregnant the first week of camp and break water on the mound in Game 7 of the World Series. Beyond, that I had nothing. Oh, I mean I guess it could have been filled with the kinds of issues and dilemmas “Pitch” is pitching, I just mean I’m no screenwriter and wouldn’t even have begun to know how to flesh out that one-sentence… Read more »
Fake Yeezy
Guest

Look for the adidas Ultra Boost 3.0 “Triple Grey” at select adidas stores on online during August 2017 for a retail price of $180. Be sure to keep it locked to KicksOnFire for more updates.