September 30, 2016
Episode Two! Less pitching! More controversy! Kevin Burkhardt! The Texas League! Jimmy Kimmel! (Okay, we’re not really that excited about Jimmy Kimmel.) To quickly recap, the second episode picks up with Ginny Baker dealing with a lot of expected, but not wholly welcome, media attention. That only intensifies after old video surfaces of her now-manager remarking on how she would be welcome in the clubhouse because she’s a pretty face. Ginny has to navigate the competing pressures to stand by her manager and take a stance on the treatment of women in sports, while also dealing with the resentment of her teammates. Looming over all of this are machinations to replace the embattled skipper. We also get backstories for
Meg: Being the first anything is really hard. Expectations can be pretty profoundly unfair. Ginny is trying desperately to be “one of the guys.” I would imagine that for trailblazers in any field, there is a strong and abiding desire for normalcy. Fox Sports does not care about the Padres fifth starter. Padres fans barely care about the Padres fifth starter. But everyone is going to care about the first woman in baseball, and suddenly this person who is trying so hard to just freaking blend has all these expectations placed on her that she’ll have a perfectly developed and expressed view on gender politics, her own and others. She’s asked to weigh in on the sexual assault of another female athlete. Footage is unearthed of her manager making inappropriate comments about her, and she’s expected to denounce him and support him simultaneously. There is no winning. As she tells her agent, she’s a person, not a brand. People feel pressure, are unsure, and not always keen to be the public face of a movement. She is, as she notes, a statement by virtue of existing. Seeing her discover what she wants that statement to be, but stumble through its delivery on Jimmy Kimmel Live! was pretty affecting.
As an aside, I thought Dan Lauria’s portrayal of the manager, Al Luongo, this episode was perfect. Time has sort of passed him by. He knows that he doesn’t quite get how he is supposed to be, but also doesn’t get quite how he isn’t being that. You can see him trying, but also coming up short. The show doesn’t try to skirt around the fact that his comments do damage even if damage isn’t his intent, but also rather humanely notes that he isn’t necessarily a monster. He’s why dialogue is so important, and would no doubt be a huge and ongoing part of any real-life experience of a woman in an MLB clubhouse.
Jarrett: Dan Lauria owns. Al, pointedly, does not own. I think we’re starting to get the idea that Al basically has a gig because he’s Not A.J. Preller’s mentor. On paper, he’s a caricature of an old, badly out of touch manager, and that could very easily be a detriment to the show. But Lauria’s acting really does give the Luongo character great depth, and the scene with Ginny in the locker room was just touching enough and just funny enough to work.
Relatedly, the bench coach shenanigans, even though they were all telegraphed a mile away, were still entertaining. And once again, baseball fans can spot a Pitch character-as-a real person, since our bench coach here gave off more Don Zimmer vibes than a late-90s Yankee reunion would.
Meg: Why that’s character actor Jack McGee aka John Poloni in Moneyball! Is there an alternate universe where John Poloni, real life professional scout and former pitcher, enters witness protection but loves the game so much that he emerges as Buck Garland, Padres bench coach? Probably not, right? Because he’d have to wear a disguise, or grow a mustache or something?
Jarrett: I would absolutely watch the show about how we get from Moneyball to Pitch with the same character. Sort of a baseball-themed version of Better Call Saul?
Anyways, using these easily spottable stand-ins, like a bench coach that looks and acts like Don Zimmer, gives some of the side characters immediate depth. It’s a little tricky because if you go too far (and the Brock Turner analogue was bordering on this) it ends up feeling all Law and Order “ripped from the headlines.” But, hey, we did find out Actual Mike Trout exists in the Pitch universe.
Meg: I am just glad that Pitch cast its ballot for the real AL MVP.
Jarrett: Would it be too much of a diversion to do 500 words on how the BBWAA is going to creatively screw Trout this year?
Meg: NOPE. I demand a late-season rewrite. We also got to see more of the friendship developing between Mike and Ginny. I will admit being nervous about the dynamic between these battery mates in the beginning. The actors have great chemistry, and I dread a romance between them. Instead, we see a growing respect and friendship. Lawson wants a World Series before he retires; Baker wants to stay a pro. They’re pulling in the same direction, in spite of childish teammates and the maelstrom surrounding Ginny. Like so many good workplace dramas, they are starting to show that you can love your coworkers without being in love with them. There is a moment at the end of the episode where Ginny and Blip and Mike are out with a bunch of other players, and Ginny gets up to dance. Instead of Mike jumping up to dance with her, only to find a convenient DJ switch to a slow song and long, meaningful glances, he makes the conscious choice to leave the bar.
Jarrett: So the most hesitation I had about the casting of Pitch was Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the male lead. He’s Zack Morris, you know? And the stuff he’s done since hasn’t struck me as great—his run on NYPD Blue was in that show’s late waning seasons, he was a weak link on Commander In Chief, and I didn’t watch Franklin and Bash. But through two episodes, the dude is hitting it out of the freaking park here. Every single emotional beat is right, he’s got crazy chemistry with Kylie Bunbury, and he’s the most believable actor-as-a-baseball player on the show. I think I’d be cool if Ginny and Mike were, like, the Lorelai and Luke of this series. I’d also be quite happy if this show lasted long enough to get to the romantic part of the Lorelai and Luke relationship.
I did enjoy that the interactions between Ginny and Mike focused a lot on the baseball aspects of their relationship. Ginny shakes off Mike a lot because she doesn’t trust her fastball all the time, and pays for it. This episode establishes Mike as an unusually old superstar catcher on his last legs, and he’d really have to be an amazing game-caller and handler of young pitchers to still be catching at 36. As we’re learning in the real baseball world right now, that can be a very valuable set of skills to have.
Meg: I can’t wait to grade his framing. Bet he frames like a champ. Can’t wait to see more. But (great segue) you know who it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing more of: Ghost Dad!
Jarrett: Praise the heavens, where Ghost Dad will hopefully stay. I did enough seasons of Ghost Dad on Dexter for this lifetime already.
A weaker spot in the pilot, which we glossed over last week, was Ali Larter as Ginny’s agent. I love Ali Larter. I was really hoping that Ali Larter would end up having more depth and get toned down a little. The depth definitely happens here—our flashbacks establish Amelia’s motivations for becoming Ginny’s agent and the relationship between Amelia and Ginny—and Amelia is firmly put in her place by Ginny at the end of the episode. And then at the end of the episode we mix up the two flirtations from the pilot and connect Amelia to Mike Lawson? Whoa.
Meg: Whoa indeed. A strong second episode, wisely steering away from some of the sillier parts of the pilot and toward its most compelling drama. See you next week, Pitch.
Meg Rowley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @megrowler