TCA: Will FOX’s Pitch Strike Out or be a Home Run?

Pitch Ray Mickshaw / FOX
Pitch with a "P": Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury confer on the mound.

Next up to bat at FOX’s day at the TCA Summer Press Tour is the sports drama Pitch. In the ambitious drama, Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) is poised to be the first woman to play in a MLB game. Guide sports editor Ryan Berenz and I had different reactions to the pilot, but I must admit, I’m biased. My sister was a MLB mascot for over a decade and was one of only few female mascots in the league. She was often the only female getting treatment in the clubhouse training room.

The producers and stars implored that the gathered journalists not reveal a plot twist in the pilot, so I won’t. But the revelation “isn’t just a twist,” insists creator and EP Dan Fogelman, “it helps you understand the character.”

There haven’t been many TV series about baseball, largely because of the scope of the sport, although it’s been done in film. But it’s more than baseball. “Look at Bull Durham, Major League or any Kevin Costner movie. This character feels different to me,” says Fogelman. “It’s not about baseball, it’s about a young woman coming of age under a microscope.” I’m sad he didn’t give a shout-out to Rookie of the Year, about a boy literally coming of age while playing pro baseball.

Producers Tony Bill and Rick Singer conceived the idea as a feature film and after he heart it, the idea stuck with Dan Fogelman for several years. Singer admits was looking for a great underdog story to tell in baseball and says the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, Danica Patrick and Mo’ne Davis serve as inspirations.

The production has the backing of Major League Baseball, so the production can use can use MLB logos and stadiums, and even FOX spots reporters make cameos. But “baseball is expensive to make,” says EP Paris Barclay, noting that FOX Sports brought in its cameras and production to help shoot the pilot’s baseball scenes and they’ve been able to replicate the shooting style on a smaller scale in subsequent episodes. “Were making The West Wing in baseball,” he jokes, noting a lot more happens in the world of baseball than games. So expect plenty of “walk and talks” in the stadium concourses.

The producers reveal that one non game-related episode will cover the MLB trade deadline, a story that is high-stress without being in the stadium.

Kylie Bunbury stars as Ginny Baker in Pitch Warwick Saint / FOX

Actress Kylie Bunbury is shouldering the load of the series as the young pitcher who stands to break baseball’s gender barrier. Bunbury shared that sports are in her blood: dad was a pro soccer player and her brother currently plays professional soccer. When the actress was younger, she played basketball and ran track. The Minnesota native adds that she roots for the Twins and no, the Padres. And to prepare for her role, he had an exhaustive two-month baseball boot camp.

Bunbury admits the audition process didn’t even include throwing a ball, “They said, we like your acting, now go learn how to pitch.” And after Dan Fogelman watched Bunbury’s audition, he told his wife, “That’s the girl.” EP Helen Bartlett adds, “she’s a real athlete,” of the ease of which Bunbury learned the art of pitching.

Fogelman says that he thinks gender desegregation in major sports will happen in his lifetime. “I think the right woman will came along, and I think it will be sooner rather than later. And he says when it happens, “that young woman will be come the biggest story overnight.”

Co-creator Rick Singer muses, “Some young girl is going to be watching the show and may be motivated by it.” He hopes to inspire a new generation to dream beyond what is, and to imagine what is possible.

This is Dan Fogelman’s second new series on TV this fall. He also created the excellent This is Us for NBC and feels that two shows on TV at a time is enough. Last year, he had Galavant and Grandfathered on TV.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar — who once admitted to me that if he wasn’t an actor, he’d want to be a ballplayer — says as a result of training to be a catcher, he currently can’t bend two of his fingers. He calls catching a “Blue collar, head down” position.

Mo McRae, who plays outfielder Blip Sanders boasts that he’s the best hitter on the team, but Mark Consuelos — who plays the team’s former ball-playing GM — touts his switch-hitting ability.

Spoiler alert: the Padres aren’t going to the world series in Pitch, says EP Kevin Falls, a die-hard Padres fan. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I thank you and hope that life imitates art, as long as Pitch picks my beloved team to win.

On an additional note, several scenes were shot at the 2016 MLB All-Star game.