7:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Pitch' Pulls a Fast One: Inside the Emotional Twist and What's Next
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of Fox's Pitch.]
Welcome to the Major Leagues, Ginny Baker.
As the actual big leagues head into the September pennant race and playoffs, Fox's Pitch finally had its Opening Day on Thursday and delivered an emotional hour that was packed with history — and one big twist.
Created by Rick Singer (Younger) and Dan Fogelman (This Is Us), the drama stars Kylie Bunbury as Ginny, the first woman to break Major League Baseball's gender barrier, when she is called up by the Padres for a spot start.
The pilot followed Ginny's emotional and ground-breaking debut, which doesn't go as planned after she has an emotional meltdown when she can't find the strike zone and turns what was a historical moment into a punchline. Thanks to the help of her outfielder friend Blip (Mo McRae) and, eventually, starting catcher Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Ginny finds her groove in her second start and has her first big-league win.
Intercut in her present-day journey are flashbacks to various points in Ginny's childhood that reveal her father Bill (Michael Beach) never made it to the Majors and instead attempted to groom his son to follow in his footsteps. Only it was young Ginny who showed a natural gift from a young age. As he continues to mold her for the pros, Bill teaches Ginny how to throw a nasty screwball as she continues to look to him for vindication. That, however, never comes after a series of wins throughout her young career — including when she's recruited by a scout after a key victory.
"We ain't done nothing yet," he tells her in the car ride home after she led her team to victory in the 2010 State Championships. It's then that they're involved in a car crash that winds up killing Ginny's father. The twist at the end of the pilot reveals Ginny talking to her father after her first big-league win — with viewers finally realizing that she sees him only in her mind.
"I think it says everything. You view her meltdown on the mound in a completely different way," co-creator Dan Fogelman says of Ginny's visions. "You view the pressure that this young woman is under in a completely different way. That's what makes the twist work. It doesn't turn the whole pilot on its head, but it shifts a bit and you realize this girl is under more pressure than you thought. She's not chasing just being the first of something; she's chasing somebody's dreams who she will never get the 'atta boy' from."
The Pitch twist follows a similar structure to Fogelman's NBC freshman drama, This Is Us, which also toys with time and structure. And like This Is Us, just because a character is dead in the present-day story, that doesn't mean they won't continue to be seen on screen on a regular basis.
"We'll be able to go back to different times in Ginny's life and see different points of her upbringing," Fogelman says. "And then even her years in the minors and the 20s, post-dad. At the end, the season becomes a character study of this young woman as much as a baseball show."
Below, co-creator Rick Singer — who originally envisioned Pitch as a movie after he was inspired by the Women's World Cup victory in 1999 — as well as star Bunbury talk with THR about where the baseball drama (produced in partnership with Major League Baseball) goes from here.
The pilot gives away a lot: Ginny is successful on the big-league stage. But where does the show go from here? Is it about how she acclimates and how the Padres improve as a whole? Is it a push for a pennant? Are there larger arcs?
Singer: It's fundamentally a workplace show about these people and their common goals as a company, so to speak. Team harmony and/or disharmony will be a factor and something we explore. Ginny is a catalyst for change in various ways on this team, a fly in the ointment to some, and she's taken somebody's roster spot and there's dissent to some degree. And yet, in some ways, she's ahead of everybody else because she's dealt with this on every level that she's been on [in her rise to the Majors]. There's a certain understanding that she has of what she's in for that other people are coming to for the first time. But ultimately, just like with ER or The West Wing, we're interested in doing a show about people doing extraordinary things but ultimately understanding that they all have ordinary lives with very human moments. We're interested in exploring the personal aspects that are happening against this gigantic backdrop so that we see the drama in sports. But at the same time, we go behind the scenes so that we're on the field with these people and these things that are happening on a grand stage. We understand the meaning of what is actually going on in their lives and what the added elements of what that moment is really about. For instance, when someone is at the All-Star Game and from a living room standpoint, what we see is them waving and this a moment of glory for them. If we've seen their last three days and we realize that this is a very difficult moment in their life for them, it's an interesting contrast and that's a lifeblood for our show.
As you build toward the first 10 episodes, is there a certain point you're working toward? Is there a natural midseason finale and, if you get the back-nine order, a season finale that you have mapped out?
Singer: Yes. We are looking at it in terms of what is happening on the team. What is happening with their place on the team? How is Ginny's world opening up piece by piece? What are the challenges that go with those each and every day? What are the relationships that are unfolding? What is the dynamic among all of our characters? In our second episode, we explore how Ginny and Amelia (Ali Larter) first met and how she became her agent. Then in other episodes we get to see more of Ginny's family members. Then we'll go into other characters' backstories as well. It's a way to inform the present so that what's happening on the field is happening in the present but also in context for things that have happened in the past as well. We have a beanball episode and we get to see part of the history. One of the great things about baseball is that there's a code and there are all these hidden languages that are spoken on and off the field among the players. We wanted to explore that and also through flashbacks show some of these baseball feuds that go way back. That was a fun opportunity for us to sort of explore how these what seem like very little things in the present actually have roots way, way back in the past.
How much baseball can we expect to see in the first 10? How many games are we covering if a MLB season is 162 games?
Singer: I'd say half of our episodes will be baseball-heavy and half of them will not be. That gives us a chance to amortize our costs. We don't want to do a show about, "Do they win this week or not." We want to have structured our season around these signpost moments as the season progresses between the trading deadline and All-Star Game and September call-ups, etc. So we're using the baseball calendar as a means of telling how our season is unfolding, but those are the clothesline moments that we're then going into and delving.
Is season one of Pitch one season in the big-leagues?
Singer: It depends. We're picking up this first season with Ginny coming onto the team midseason and hitting the ground running. So we would explore what this first season would be like and then potentially for the back-nine order we might jump forward in time in terms of when we would air [after the holiday hiatus] and jump forward [on screen] as well.
What does it say about Ginny that she sees visions of her father after his death?
Bunbury: He's her driving force but it's interesting that Ginny is discovering that it's not just his dream [to make it in the Majors]. It is her dream as well, but he brings her a lot of confidence. In times of self-doubt, he brings her that confidence that she needs. And he also reminds her to be tough. He really made her strong.
Does Ginny blame herself for his death?
Bunbury: No. I've thought about that and I go back and forth: maybe she does but maybe she doesn't. But deep down, she knows she has nothing to do with it.
How much more of her family will we see?
Bunbury: You're going to get to meet Ginny's older brother, Will [played by UnREAL's B.J. Britt], which I'm really excited about because I've never been able to have a brother in anything that I've played before. I always have sisters [on-screen] and I have three brothers. We're going to see more of Ginny's mother [Chastity Dotson] as well. You'll see the whole Baker clan.
What did you think of Pitch? Are you in for the season? Sound off in the comments section, below. Pitch airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.