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It’s a whole new ballgame at FOX!

Kylie Bunbury steps up to the plate in Pitch;
the first female in the Major Leagues


By Gerri Miller

 

Women have not yet broken the gender barrier in professional baseball, but the new Fox series Pitch re-imagines that scenario, telling the story of a young pitcher named Ginny Baker who is called up from the minors to play for the San Diego Padres. Starring newcomer Kylie Bunbury (Under the Dome) as the rookie, the series chronicles major league drama on and off the field.

Pitch While there’s plenty of nail-biting action on the diamond, “We're focusing a lot of the drama inside the team,” says creator and executive producer Dan Fogelman. “Is this a distraction for the team? Is she getting more attention than a number five call up starter would normally get? It's about the attention and the scope --If a woman broke into a major American sport, it would be a monstrous story on a narrative scale. The show takes place in the world of baseball, but it’s really about a young woman coming of age with the entire world watching her.”

Adds creator and executive producer Rick Singer, “There's incredible stakes and drama in what this woman has to go through on a personal level to do what she loves and everything that comes along with that in wanting to be ballplayer. I think that's a unique show that I haven't seen before, and I think that's what we set out to do.”

Singer originally conceived the story as a feature film, and shared the script with Dan Fogelman, who suggested that it would make a good TV series, particularly for Fox, which broadcasts Major League Baseball games. That synergy proved to be priceless, as MLB is a fully cooperative partner with the show. Not only is Pitch able to use the San Diego Padres team name and its stadium, Petco Park, the cast has training workouts with members of the team. “They help us enormously with our authenticity,” says Singer of the organization.

Pitch

But the producers knew that everything rested on the casting of the lead role, and finding an actress who could throw a fastball was a daunting problem that Fogelman worried that they’d never solve. Then they met Kylie Bunbury, and cast her before there was an official script or pilot order, which gave her ample time to train.

PItchAt her audition, “They didn't ask me if I could pitch. They just said, ‘Okay. We like your acting. Now go learn how to pitch,’" says Bunbury. “They just trusted me. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I believe in myself and I grew up in a family where my mom always told us we could do anything. I just really focused and trained as hard as I could. I’m an athlete. I had played basketball, soccer and ran track. I grew in an athletic family. My dad played professional soccer, and my brother currently plays professional soccer,” she notes. “Throwing a baseball wasn't very difficult. It was just getting down the dry mechanics and long tossing to get my arm strengthened up.”

“The way she carried herself, we just had confidence that she was going to be able to do it,” says Rick Singer. The fact that Bunbury is African-American was incidental, the producers insist. “We didn't look for a black or a white or Hispanic actress. We just looked for the right person for the part,” declares executive producer Tony Bill. “I always tell people that she's our needle in a haystack.” 

But director/producer Paris Barclay, who is also African-American, thinks it’s a great element to have “black family in the center of a story without it being a story about a black family, which is really the way I would love to see it evolve, where it's just stories about people. You go in, and you relate to it, and it's almost a second thought that you think about their race or think about their ethnicity.”

Pitch’s diverse cast also includes Mark Consuelos as the Padres’ General Manager Oscar Aguella, Ali Larter as Ginny’s agent Amelia Slater, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, nearly unrecognizable as catcher and team captain Mike Lawson.

Gosselaar, who made his TV debut in Saved By the Bell and has starred in such series as NYPD Blue, Commander in Chief and Franklin & Bash, happily packed on the pounds and grew a full beard to take on the role of the veteran player who’s wary of spotlight-stealing rookies—of any gender. “Mike would be hard on anyone. We need to win the game. It’s ‘What are you going to bring to the table?’” offers Gosselaar. “I could relate to him having to deal with younger players coming in and moving up, and having to struggle to keep his position.”

PitchHaving most recently acted in the comedy Truth Be Told, he wanted to do something completely opposite, and loved the “water cooler script” and the idea of transforming himself into a character quite different from himself. He also eagerly immersed himself in the baseball world, “learning the art of being a catcher. Just being behind the plate, you get that mindset of being that blue collar worker that isn't afraid of a ball, isn't afraid of taking pitches, and that shows up on screen-- that was the beauty of having a month and a half of training before the pilot,” says Gosselaar.

“We’re still in training. We train two, three times minimum a week. We're constantly texting each other photos of proper batting stances,” he notes, grateful for the opportunity to work with Major League Baseball players and have their knowledge at the actors’ disposal.

MLB’s cooperation was invaluable in making Pitch as real looking and accurate as possible, allowing the series to shoot the pilot episode at the Padres’ home stadium. (Interiors for subsequent episodes, including the locker room, hallways and offices, were recreated at the Paramount lot in Hollywood). The Fox crew that shoots baseball games lent a crew, equipment and expertise. “It costs a bit more money, but gives us something that I think no other show has ever done before,” says Paris Barclay.

Nevertheless, Barclay believes, “What’s happening off the field is what people will be talking about. We’re making a show that's going to show you how baseball works, but in a way that makes it really personal. It won't always center around whether Ginny wins this game or that game. This show has a lot more going on than what happens on the diamond.”

Pitch

One ongoing element is the flashbacks that depict Ginny’s early life and relationship with her father, and there will be flashbacks involving other characters as well. There’s a surprise reveal at the end of the pilot that Dan Fogelman thinks will enrich understanding of Ginny and what she’s going through, and help viewers “understand the intensity of the pressure” she’s under.

Although Pitch’s scenario is fictional, Fogelman believes that female Major League players will eventually be a reality. “I think the right young woman is going to come along, and I think it's going to happen sooner than later, and like in the show, that young woman will become the biggest story in the country overnight, with attention on her every move. I think the world is ready for it.”

In the meantime, Pitch could have a positive effect that might set that revolution in motion. “From our perspective,” Rick Singer imagines, “The idea that some young girl is going to be watching our show and actually be inspired by that and motivated to be that person is very exciting for us.”

Pitch premieres Sept. 22 at 9 pm ET/PT on Fox.

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 184 - September 2018
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