Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Pitch for Pitch!

I watch way too much TV, which is one of the reasons I’m behind on my current novel and I haven’t updated my blog in months. Unfortunately it looks like I may be getting back an hour, because my favorite show of the new season isn’t as universally loved as it should be. Do you love shows about strong women? Do you love shows with some soapy elements? Do you love shows about sports? Then you should be watching Pitch.

Pitch revolves around Ginny Baker, the first woman to make it to the MLB in a fictional version of the San Diego Padres. (This is not a far-fetched development, as there are already young women pitching in baseball programs at the college level.) Ginny is 23; she was drafted out of high school; she’s beautiful and African-American. She’s more than a baseball player; she’s a symbol that women can accomplish anything. Her first start was in a sold-out stadium, with eager young girls waving signs with her name. Not surprisingly, she balked – literally and figuratively. How can she play her game and live her life when she's a symbol for half the country?

But Pitch is about more than Ginny and it’s about more than baseball. Like Friday Night Lights, a show to which it’s been favorably compared, Pitch is about the characters and relationships between them as the show explores what it takes to get to the top and stay there. Numerous flashbacks show Ginny’s relationship with her dead father, who was killed in an accident with a drunk driver the night Ginny pitched her high-school team to the state championship. Bill Baker had made it to the minors and dreamed of having a son follow in his footsteps. But Ginny was the one with the golden arm, and guiding her to the pros became the focus of his life, as he sacrificed his marriage and Ginny’s childhood.

The series also explores the relationship between Ginny’s best friend and teammate, Blip, as he navigates the pull between his home life and baseball fame. Then there’s veteran catcher Mike Lawson – Ginny had his poster on her wall growing up – who provides Ginny with guidance but whose body is aging out of the game. Mike is having a secret affair with Ginny’s agent Amelia, who sometimes is more of a mother to Ginny than her actual mother, whom Ginny caught cheating on her father when she was twelve years old. And then there’s Oscar, the Padres’s GM who’s in the middle of his own divorce, trying to save his job while running a losing team. Ginny’s ex-boyfriend Trevor is a catcher on another major league team; she dumped him when he didn’t quit the game as he’d planned.

So lots of opportunity for good, soapy stuff.

But what ties all these characters together is the theme of how hard it is to get to the top of your game and stay there. Ginny didn’t get to the majors through hard work and talent alone – she got there by working harder than just about every man in the league. And while the sexism that greets her is constant and sometimes overt, it’s more of a threatening rain cloud than a violent thunderstorm.

It’s like Friday Night Lights. It’s like Nashville in the baseball world. It has a female lead character. (She’s not Connie Britton; she has more the bite of Olivia Pope than the bleeding heart of Tammi Taylor/Rayna James.) It features minority actors in many roles. Why aren’t more people watching? (On the other hand, we didn’t get a lot of viewers for those shows, either. Natch.)

I never played baseball (I played softball for a season or two. I was terrible.). But my son plays. I’ve had a front seat to his struggles… and often that front seat was the car seat, as I drove him to practices, games, lessons, showcases to different states, and college visits. (I even wrote a book based on the early years, KEEPING SCORE. You can buy it here.)

You don’t need to know the infield fly rule in order to appreciate this show. It does help to have an appreciation for the fact that following a dream takes hard, hard work. And achieving the dream isn’t the end of the story. Ginny is the first female professional baseball player. Only seven hundred or so people play baseball at the major league level. Her hard work is worth following. I am particularly hopeful that the show will feature flashbacks to her junior and senior years of high school, when she’d be going on college visits and taking part in Perfect Game showcases. Which college did she commit to before she was drafted? (Most top baseball players commit to colleges their sophomore or junior years of high school. Since they are not draft-eligible until the end of their senior year of high school, no top player puts off committing in the hopes of getting drafted.)

Pitch is on Fox, Thursday nights at 9. Originally the network was going to hold off till the spring, but with Scandal on hiatus due to Kerry Washington’s new baby, they thought Scandal’s viewers would be attracted to this show. Unfortunately, they seem to be watching Notorious instead. The fall debut works nicely with the excitement of post-season baseball, but I think a Wednesday at 10 slot – the old Nashville airing – would have worked better.

Remember how TV fans lamented that they hadn’t found Friday Night Lights until it was too late? Don’t make the same mistake with Pitch!