Remarkably, the lead actress and lead writer of “Pitch” have been asked by strangers whether the Fox TV series about the first woman in the major leagues is based on a true story.
It’s not, of course, because there never has been one. Nor was it inspired by Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history.
At the very least, the premise of the show, which debuts Thursday night, can get people thinking and dreaming.
“It’s already within the realm of possibility in people’s minds, which is really interesting,” said Kylie Bunbury, who plays Ginny Baker, a 23-year-old, screwball-throwing right-hander who is called up by the San Diego Padres to make her big league debut in a spot start.
“This is an everyone show,” Bunbury said during a break in shooting at Petco Park, the home of the Padres. “Baseball is the backdrop of the show. This is about relationships. It’s about people and about representing all colors, creeds, genders, properly and well. It has a lot of heart and it makes you feel good. I think that’s what we need right now, with everything going on in the world. It just makes you feel good.”
While the show will no doubt have its critics, the producers are trying to get the baseball part as right as possible. The show has MLB’s blessing, and Petco Park appears just as it does during real games. Some scenes have been filmed at Dodger Stadium and some will be filmed at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Bunbury is being tutored by former big league reliever Gregg Olson, who also serves as a consultant.
“I’m sure there are going to be some naysayers, I’m sure there are going to be people picking us apart,” Bunbury said. “But that’s not the point. It’s still a show. People need to remember. This is just an imaginary circumstance. The heart is what’s the most important and the most beautiful about this.”
The pilot explores who Baker is and how she got to the big leagues, including the strong influence of her father. It also begins to explore how a woman would mesh with the clubhouse culture, starting when catcher Mike Lawson, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, pats her on the backside in front of other players.
Her debut is painful to watch, as she throws 10 straight balls, including three wild pitches, to fall behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0. When the manager comes out for a mound visit, she begs out of the game. A real-life performance like that would get a pitcher a ticket on the next plane back to Triple-A. But there are, after all, nine more episodes to go. She sticks around and gets her first victory.
Future episodes will have Baker pitching in the All-Star Game — coincidentally, the Padres hosted it this year and Fox Sports broadcast it — the Padres signing a Cuban catcher and a beanball war that involves Baker and leads to a brawl.
Kevin Falls, the lead writer and executive producer, calls it “a big-tent show.” Meaning it’ll range from family-friendly to having some “soapy” elements that might not be suitable for young kids.
“If you’re a baseball fan, there’s going to be some good baseball stories,” Falls said.
The show also goes into the characters’ lives.
“You not only get to go home with them, but you get to go into the past,” Falls said.
There’s a big twist at the end of the pilot. There can’t be one of those every week, “but there’s a premium on the storytelling that goes deep and turns over the stones that provide you with a surprise or reveals the character,” Falls said. “It’s really cool.”
Bunbury has spent the last several months learning how to pitch.
She comes from athletic genes. Her father, Alex, played professional soccer. Her brother, Teal, plays for the New England Revolution of the MLS.
Could there ever be a woman pitcher in the bigs?
“If Serena Williams picked up a baseball at age 4 instead of a tennis racket, what would you think? There’s a pretty decent chance,” Olson said. “I think it’s feasible at some point. It’s going to take a special girl.”
Here’s one bit of baseball that will stay true to reality: “Viewers should not expect a no-hitter anytime soon,” executive producer Paris Barclay said.
The Padres are the only big league team that’s never had a no-hitter.
They’ve never won the World Series, either.
“Tell them to call me up,” Bunbury said with a laugh.