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Don't Be Surprised if 'Pitch' Goes on the DL Early
September 22, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments
 

Fox’s new baseball drama Pitch just misses the strike zone.

Rats.

The drama of Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury, top), the first woman to pitch on a Major League baseball team, premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, and for all kinds of reasons you’ll wish it were a great ongoing exploration of an intriguing sports issue.

But then, alas, Ginny takes the mound for her first big-league game and no matter how skillfully the cameras are maneuvered, it’s very clear she’s just not a Major League pitcher.

She’s an actress playing a Major League pitcher.

Now sure, actors and actresses spend their lives playing people they’re not, from cops and lawyers to waitresses, junkies, kings and queens.

In each of those cases, though, a performer can replicate the physical activity of the subject. The appearance, the speech, the attitude, the tone.

You can’t replicate professional-quality athleticism, and while an occasional movie has been compelling enough that we will overlook that problem – The Natural, Bull Durham – it’s too much of an obstacle in an ongoing series.

That may just sound old-man cranky. I’d be happy if it were. But there’s a reason that in all the years of television, we’ve almost never had a successful series in which actors played high-level athletes.

Friday Night Lights could arguably be an exception, thanks again to clever camera work and the fact it was high school sports. But it was still an exception, which Pitch sadly is not.

Let’s face it: Most people who would watch Pitch are sports fans, to some degree. Most sports fans, when they see that the sports part isn’t credible, won’t find enough other positives to keep them watching.

And yes, Pitch does have positives.

Bunbury makes us not only like Ginny Baker, but see why she has a streak of sadness and loss. Like any pro athlete, she made sacrifices to get where she did.

Pitch also doesn’t turn Baker into Supergirl, blowing everybody out of the way. She comes to her team, the Padres, as a temporary fifth starter, and there are times when she pitches like one.

She draws a predictable round of reactions from her teammates, many of them negative, and the show seems willing to let those play out rather than producing some instant magical resolution.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar (left) plays a familiar character, the wily veteran who has become the de facto clubhouse leader on the team.

He’s also the catcher, so he’s the one who works most closely with Baker on the field. He’s got a nice droll attitude and we like him.

The rest of the cast, including players, owners, managers, hangers-on and so forth, sometimes feel clichéd, as if we’ve seen or met them before. That’s not a serious problem, since we need those points of view to paint the larger picture of a Major League sports team.

What’s less clear is where Pitch can go. It may be that the creators have some wonderful ideas for direction, though right up front some viewers will probably wonder whether the core story would have been better told in a single movie.

Happily, Ginny Baker’s story isn’t sold here as some sort of novelty sideshow stunt. She’s an athlete good enough to compete at the top level of her sport, and Pitch envisions some of what she’d face in pursuing that dream.  

It’s just hard to make the story feel real when you can’t simulate what Ginny must do to belong there.

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Chuck
It gets wrose, ThoroughbredOfSin: on tonight's episode--and I am not making this up--"Ginny realizes that her ex-boyfriend is on the opposing team".

So, see? It really is a soap opera that's all about the woman protagonist's relationship to men. All soap operas are.
Sep 28, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
ThoroughbredOfSin
Finally watched Pitch. I figure I'm the exact demographic that was targeted for this series. I'm a 30-something woman who watches a few innings of my hometown ball club every night from April through (fingers crossed) October. But Pitch doesn't work, and here's why. No ball club would ever bring up a woman for a spot START. She would be a September call-up, and she would throw an inning or two in blow outs. (And, IMHO, if a woman plays in MLB, she will be a Ichiro-type speedster.) I really wanted to like Pitch, but so much felt cliched. Mark-Paul Gosselaar was great, but everyone else felt silo-ed, as though there was no connection to anyone else. And the Daddy twist was really unnecessary. I'll watch another ep, but I was underwhelmed. You are absolutely right that the nuance of this would have been better captured in a movie. But even then, I'm not sure its a movie I'd want to watch.
Sep 26, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
 
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