‘Pitch’ Review: The First Female Professional Baseball Player Is Nearly Undone By Her Emotions

Fox's baseball drama telegraphed its last second twist, but was the real error constructing a pilot around the first female major leaguer who can't do her job because she's emotional?

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” on FOX

Tommy Garcia / FOX

We are approaching a milestone in America: Hillary Clinton is on pace to become the first female President of the United States. It’s a landmark achievement thats weight has somehow been trumped by our need to avoid the end of the world (pun intended), but the far-reaching impact of a woman holding our nation’s highest office will be felt long beyond the lives of anyone reading these words. Not only is it historic — it’s significant.

Now, comparing that achievement with America’s first female professional baseball player may seem like a stretch. Even more so considering this ballplayer only exists on television, within the fictional world of “Pitch” created by Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer. Yet the connection is made within the series itself, as one of the first images we see is a vase of flowers delivered to freshly called-up San Diego Padres pitcher Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury, a fine young actor in her first major role). A note on the card explains the congratulatory gift was sent from — you guessed it — Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Cleary, this pitcher is a big deal, and during the first third of the “Pitch” pilot, Fogelman and Singer make sure the significance of the moment they’ve constructed isn’t lost on the viewer. Besides Clinton’s flowers, there are constant comparisons to Jackie Robinson (Baker is given jersey No. 43, “one up from Jackie.”). Her agent, played by Ali Larter, makes a pretty convincing speech explaining why Baker is the most important woman on Earth. Sports reporters blast thoughts from TVs in the hotel lobby, the car Baker takes to the stadium and eventually as color commentary during her game. This is a big deal, and you feel it in your bones. You’re right there with her — in the game; on the mound; a part of history.

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 © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co

Then… there’s the pitch. [Spoilers for the “Pitch” pilot ahead] Baker, completely unnerved by the pressure, throws 10 wild pitches and excuses herself from the game. She’s so lost out there she can’t even keep her composure between pitches. And while the shocking loss of control is all part of the series’ narrative drama, there’s something inherently troubling about seeing a woman overcome decades of oppression through hard work, talent and an unparalleled professional mastery only to be let down by a sexist cliche so often cited as the reason she couldn’t do it in the first place: She’s too emotional.

Before digging into exactly why this is still an issue in a show about baseball, let me first say that anyone complaining about “Pitch” simply because it fouls up a few specifics of the sport can shut the hell up. No, an MLB catcher would never use the term “aiming your pitches” as a positive, and, yes, Baker’s CGI fastballs look as fake as the ‘turf in the old Astrodome. But no one cited Nuke LaLoosh’s throwing motion as a reason to hate “Bull Durham,” so we shouldn’t be disqualifying “Pitch” for similar shortcomings — it’s a TV show, and TV shows have to take certain liberties to tell a compelling story. (Plus, Bunbury’s motion is so much better than Tim Robbins’.)

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TV shows do, however, have a responsibility — especially series meant to represent more than just a TV show. “Pitch” does a lot of things right in its first hour, especially in the buildup to her first game. Anyone looking forward to relishing the image of a woman in uniform standing tall on a mound for a professional baseball game should get goosebumps when she does. But those feelings are quickly betrayed by the exaggerated manner in which Baker blows up.

PITCH: L-R: Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury in PITCH coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co

It’s not that she failed to live up to expectations. It’s that she failed so spectacularly and in a way directly related to a sexist assumption attached to her gender. Had she gone out and thrown strikes but still got shelled by the opposing batters, the dramatic effect would have been the same. She would’ve still had to figure out her way back, professionally. But by showing her completely lose control of everything — from literal control over her pitches to her reactions on the field to simple muscle memory that allows athletes to perform without such extreme deviations from the goal — “Pitch” presents a scene with uncomfortable real-world parallels.

Watching Baker throw 10 straight pitches either against the backstop or into the infield grass (not even the dirt, which is closer to the plate) is the sports equivalent of Hillary Clinton weeping through Monday’s nationally-televised Presidential debate. While this is far from the designed interpretation — “Pitch” seems to be made with the purest of intentions — it still speaks to the delicate line the series will have to walk to succeed. The last second twist regarding Baker’s supportive but overbearing father provides no clue as to what’s next (nor is it particularly rewarding), and we can’t simply watch episode after episode until Baker throws a perfect game. There’s got to be some off-the-field drama, and early hints that a pitcher-catcher love story could develop between Baker and Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) don’t bode well for implications derived from “Pitch.” (Women can have platonic teammates just as men can, after all. Moreover, they can have problems not related to their love life.)

We are approaching a milestone in America: Barring the unthinkable, women are about to shatter a ceiling that long ago deserved to come down. “Pitch,” one way or another, wants to be a part of this movement. Good. More of us should want that, too. But “Pitch” also has its historic moment written in. If it wants to be significant, it’s got a long way to go.

Grade: C+

“Pitch” airs new episodes Wednesdays on Fox at 9pm. 

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Comments

Don Stevenson

Just like the Air Bud premise… about a dog that can play basketball. Same chance of a woman being a bona fide major league player in men’s league. FANTASY

Tammy4423

I don’t think it was about her being a typical woman that is too emotional. I think it was about her feeling tremendous stress from everyone around her, including a demanding father that she has struggled to let go of because of their history and how he passed on. Anyone, male of female,will feel that type of pressure. It’s a human reaction. Not a female reaction. She’s emotionally scarred and trying to hide behind an image that is probably not who she truly is under the surface. Then there’s that? She doesn’t know who she is outside of baseball. The point was for her to find away through her demons and the pressure against her not focus on what you consider a “cliche” because she is a woman. That is the problem in the first place, the world feeling like woman have to display strength 24/7 or they are weak. They can not be vulnerable or overwhelmed. We have to be robots. Most movies or TV shows have the let down phase so that they can build the character up as a winner in the end.

Jackie

Maybe it’s your own bias seeing the emotion as “because she’s a woman.” Human beings are emotional. She wasn’t feeling anything a man couldn’t also feel under that much pressure, and as far too many men know, performance anxiety can be a real problem. Even for something … much smaller… than baseball.

Carol

I really liked the character development and am excited to see the show progress. I do not see her ‘melt down’ as a female response to emotion but rather in response to finally being where her Father had worked so hard for her. I saw it as more of a family dynamic response. I thought it was well done. Going through trauma like seeing your Father/Mentor die on your biggest night of accomplishment for a shared dream? Yeah, that’s rough and would leave scars. PTSD? absolutely.

Dolphin

Disagree with your review and mediocre grade. Pitch is ‘Friday Night Lights’ good. I watched it on Hulu days after it premiered on FOX and am spreading the word to friends and family. So, don’t let the ratings fool you. This show has heart.

Bleu

You know what this lacks? Actual understanding of the cultural differences between women of different races. If Ginny were a white woman, I’d be inclined to agree that her being emotional could be an issue and almost insulting. But Ginny is black. The significance of her line about being a “robot in cleats” was a sucker punch in how accurate it is. Unlike white women, black women aren’t stereotyped as being emotional. The only emotion they’re allowed to display is anger. Outside of that there’s the “strong black woman” trope that plagues black women in fiction and in reality. So Ginny being soft, Ginny being vulnerable, and showing so emotion, Ginny being affected by her surroundings and what was going on. THAT is the antithesis of sexism when it’s about a black female protagonist. That’s actually groundbreaking. You can’t paint sexism and feminism in one broad stroke because it doesn’t work that way. Ginny as a black woman, and being raised with the father that she has,is raised with the “conceal don’t feel” mentality. So Ginny breaking down. Ginny exhibiting emotion is precisely what makes her real, honest, and endearing. Each female cultural group has their own set of stereotypes and sexist and racist issues. The fiesty Latina. The stoic strong black woman. The white damsel in distress.

Pitch did precisely what it needed to do given their lead and I loved that about it. It really meant a lot to me.

Jasmin

Yeah, I think you’re own bias is seeping through a little too much in this review. I think it makes complete sense that she was the emotionally distraught. The amount of pressure placed upon her, both internally and externally, was enough to make anyone crack – male or female. I feel as though Pitch was bound to catch slack no matter how Ginny was portrayed. I didn’t see a single problem with her character’s arc in the premiere, especially once you see the “twist” ending.

Jasmin

ugh..your*

Mark

In the real world – a rookie pitcher that has spent their whole working for that one moment – with a lifetime of successes would never say ‘Take me out of the game’. They would be fighting to stay in the game.

Margie

After just watching Anderson implode in the first inning between LA and CO, it was not hard to accept at all that the first woman in the majors would do the same or worse. I thought it a good start to an interesting series.

Nivra

You have to watch more baseball. This exactly does happen. Pitchers, especially rookies, come up to the bigs, and they will implode. 10 straight balls? Wild pitches? Yes, it happens. As everyone else has said, your own bias is definitely showing. Stop with the victimization. It’s ugly.

Kryssi

You completely and absolutely missed the premise of the show. If you wanted zero character development with butterflies and happy endings, have a bombshell game her first time up to the mound, stick to Disney. If this were a show called Rookie about a male rookie struggling his first game but then trying again and succeeding, I’m sure you’d be all praises. And if you seriously think emotion has nothing to do with how an athlete can perform, you’ve probably never played a sport in your life other than behind the controller of a PlayStation. Emotion is part of sport. Professional athletes crack under pressure all the time. Did you even watch the whole show? Do you actually understand the premis of it? Or did your sexism blind you the entire episode?

Santos

Not fond of that twist. Sure, I was genuinely surprised, but it also gives the impression that our heroine is mentally unstable.

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