Hey Dan Fogelman,
I know we don’t know each other, but recently you’ve become an important part of my life. Actually, you’ve become an important part of many women and girls’ lives. You probably have some sense of this given all the publicity your new show, “Pitch,” has received these past few months, but I’ll bet it hasn’t quite hit you… yet.
In ball terms, let’s say it’s the ninth inning. Team W is down by three and you’re up to bat with the bases loaded. Two outs, naturally. Our weakest hitter (we’ll call her Every Sitcom Wife Ever) is up next so you’ve really got to get this done, Dan. A single, double or triple won’t do. We need you to knock this one out of the park, and we need you to do it with everyone watching. Fox let “Pitch” — a show about MLB’s first professional female player — exist. So what I’m saying is, please don’t fuck it up.
In my decade as a television critic, there’s never been a more important show on my fall docket. I mean this personally, of course. There are causes out there that are more important to others; I understand this. But this show… this show is my heart.
Tommy Garcia / FOX
I was that girl who spent every single weekend on the ball diamond, despite being told I was wasting my time. Girls could never play professionally, you see. Still I spent countless hours drawing chalk squares on the side of my parents’ house, practicing rise balls, drop balls, curves and change-ups, and then chasing the balls down the street once my bucket ran out. I have a scar on my left knee from sliding into home for a winning run in a tournament 20 years ago, and I don’t hide it with pantyhose to this day. I love nail polish, but my nails never were that long thanks to constantly jamming them into batting gloves and diving for balls. Decades later some of my closest friends are those I rode the pine with, made up cheers for, played against or slapped on the butt during long sun-soaked tournaments on the road. And no, I was not a “dyke in spikes,” as some mean-spirited, ignorant folks liked to call us simply because we loved the game. Our sexuality had nothing to do with it, thank you very much, although to be fair our mutual love of the game is what first brought my husband and I together nine years ago.
I’ve seen the “Pitch” pilot and I should start by thanking you and Rick Singer for even creating a show like this in the first place. It’s phenomenal that you were able to secure a deal with MLB and have actual players stop by in their real uniforms. It’s also sad that in 2016, “groundbreaking” is the term used to describe a story about a woman who plays baseball. That’s that the reality of our situation, though. The NFL and NHL are at least kind of catching up by hiring one female coach apiece. (One. Apiece.) But so far MLB has been pretty damned void of any sort of female presence.
You may be changing that though; soon after “Pitch” was announced the Sonoma Stompers signed two female players, Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno. That’s the first time any woman has been admitted to the sport since three women played back in the 1950s Negro Leagues. Think about it; it’s been so long since a female has played pro baseball that we actually still had something called a “Negro League.”
Tommy Garcia / FOX
In terms of your casting, you get top points for that, too. Canadian Kylie Bunbury may have grown up in the world of soccer thanks to her pro dad and brother, but you can tell she worked her butt off to convincingly throw a baseball. Since her character, Ginny Baker, is a national league player I understand she’ll also have to bat in the near future; here’s hoping your hectic production schedule allowed her enough time to master that, too.
There were a few other things that rang true in your pilot, Dan. I really liked how you eventually had most of the other dudes in the clubhouse treat Ginny as an equal (you know, butt-slaps while addressing whether the old butt-slap is kosher, and that kind of thing). It was also pretty cool that you addressed the weight of the situation by not having Ginny bring her A-game during her first outing. Being the first of anything in that kind of situation has got to be the worst kind of burden; to this day Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel believes her husband’s stress from being the first pro black ball player was partially responsible for the heart attack that killed him at 52. Any female in that situation (as a tone-setting pitcher no less!) would inevitably feel the same kind of stress.
But for all the successful nuances in the pilot, there were a couple of red flags. That top-secret twist towards the end of the pilot? Not only will savvy viewers see it coming, but it doesn’t even add much to your story. I hope you aren’t planning to rely too heavily on that device in the coming weeks — it’s been done, to death. If you’re trying to dig into a character, there are fresher ways to do it without taking away from the heart of the story you’re telling in the first place.
Speaking of characters and development, I implore you… beg you even, to keep the romance out of the club. Those early sparks we see between catcher Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Ginny? Ditch them, please. Women are capable of playing on a team with other men and to not feel the inclination to sleep with them. I guess I understand if you want to steam things up (although I’m not convinced it’s necessary), but why not achieve that through an external character who has nothing to do with the team? It would open your story to so many new possibilities. Isn’t it fascinating how quickly the public turns on the person an athlete is dating if his or her game starts to suffer, for example?
You know the friendship you introduce between Ginny and teammate Blip (Mo McRae)? I want more of that camaraderie, please. Especially since Blip’s wife winds up being one of Ginny’s biggest allies. The fact that you’re allowing two women to have a friendship like that, void of jealousy, makes my heart sing. Please, please, please keep that up, and don’t twist it with some sort of eventual love triangle. Platonic relationships do exist in this world, and being a good teammate is so important to any story about sports — male or female.
In short, you’ve got a really rare, admirable thing going here, Dan. I haven’t been this excited about any project since “A League of Their Own.” I know you’re probably feeling some pressure yourself, especially since you’re also showrunning NBC’s new family drama “This is Us.” I get that your time is divided, but this is an important show that will hopefully serve as a catalyst for some much-needed change. There are so many female baseball players, former players and all-around fans out there; we need this win.
So bring it home for Team W, would you? It may be too late for somebody like me to ever play professionally. But it’s not too late for my four-month-old daughter to grow up in a world where if a woman has the same skill set as a man, she’s actually allowed to follow her dreams.
So please. No pressure or anything, but for me, my daughter and all the other sports-loving gals in this world, don’t mess this up.
A Baseball-Loving Gal
Amber Dowling is a freelance entertainment writer, yoga, and wine enthusiast, and all-around player of sports. She currently serves as the president of the Television Critics Association and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows across North America. In addition to founding TheTVJunkies.com her work has been featured in IndieWire, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Buzzfeed, The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star, Huffington Post, Moviefone, HitFix, IGN, Playback Magazine, Fresh Juice and The Loop. She is the former EIC and Ask Amber columnist for TV Guide Canada.