OSN’s sports drama Pitch is a whole new ball game

Pitch, a sports drama about the first woman to play major-league baseball, has all the bases covered when it comes to authenticity.
From left, Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury. Ray Mickshaw / FOX / OSN
From left, Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury. Ray Mickshaw / FOX / OSN

In a possible foreshadowing of what many believe could soon be sports reality, Pitch tells the fictional story of a gifted young pitcher who is thrown into the spotlight when she ­becomes the first woman to play ­major-league baseball.

When Ginny Baker, played with true grit by Kylie Bunbury, is called up by the San Diego Padres to make her big-league debut, the eyes of the world are upon her.

The physical challenges faced by Bunbury’s character in this feel-good drama, which begins tomorrow on OSN First HD, had parallels with those the actor faced while preparing for and filming the show.

“I’m definitely doing a lot of ­Epsom-salt baths and wrapping my arm,” says Bunbury. “Like a pro athlete, I’m aching in places I’ve never ached before.”

Where sports movies and television series are concerned, authenticity is essential to ­believability. To its credit, Pitch has brought some heavy hitters and unique teamwork to its bullpen to give it the best chance of scoring a home run with viewers who tune in to follow Baker’s ­improbable, near-impossible journey under the white-hot glare of the media spotlight.

There is corporate convergence here in a big way: for the first time, Major League Baseball (MLB) has allowed the producers of a TV show to use a fictional version of a real-life team – National League West side the San Diego Padres. In addition to using the name, the cast wear the team’s authentic uniforms and filmed in real major-league stadiums. In addition, the drama is being produced by the Fox network, and Fox Sports – home to American national baseball coverage, and sole broadcaster of the World Series since 2000 – has upped the game by allowing real on-air commentators and pundits Joe Buck, John Smoltz, Katie Nolan and Colin Cowherd to appear in cameo roles as themselves in Pitch.

The show revolves around Baker, whose ascent to the MLB mound begins in childhood, where her demanding dad Bill Baker (Sons of Anarchy’s Michael Beach) tells her: “A girl will never be able to throw hard enough to compete with boys, not as they start growing. It’s biology and we can’t change that. That’s why we need a secret weapon … it’s called a screwball.”

So while Baker’s fastball might be mediocre in major-league terms, she masters the tricky screwball, a slower, speciality pitch, like the knuckleball, that veers off course in the air, confusing the batter – and this proves to be her ticket to the majors.

Best-known for her roles in teen mystery-thriller Twisted and sci-fi drama Under the Dome, 27-year-old Bunbury says that her on-screen baseball prowess isn’t ­entirely a showbiz illusion.

“I’m pretty proud of my fastball,” she says. “I can throw a screwball but it’s not as accurate and I don’t have the velocity like I do with my fastball … but I think my fastball’s not too shabby.”

The cast worked out and played ball together a few times a week to build camaraderie and ­sharpen their skills, while former reliever Gregg Olson serves as Bunbury’s pitching coach.

As such, Bunbury’s experience of bursting into the male-­dominated world of baseball was a lot easier and more welcoming that what Baker experiences.

When she joins the Padres, the pitcher she displaces taunts her to her face that she’ll soon be nothing more than a trivia question, after other MLB pitchers master her trick screwball pitch. But Ginny is tough, with brass to spare, and is determined to overcome such resistance.

One of the delights of Pitch is the physical transformation of television veteran Mark-Paul ­Gosselaar, now 42, who burst into popular culture as high schooler Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell (1989-1993), and later in more mature roles on Franklin & Bash and NYPD Blue.

On Pitch, he is bushy-bearded, muscular and almost unrecognisable as big-hearted Mike Lawson, the team’s star catcher.

There’s instant chemistry between him and Baker, although neither dares to admit it. After all, Lawson is team captain and several of his players don’t want the new pitcher on the field.

Show co-creator Dan Fogelman knows it will take more than just the novelty value of a show about a female pitcher playing for a real MLB team to keep viewers ­interested for an entire season, and beyond.

“It’s not [only] about baseball, it’s about a young woman coming of age under a microscope,” he says, adding that he hopes Pitch will inspire a real-life athlete to make the story a reality.

“I think the right woman will came along, and I think it will be sooner rather than later,” says Fogelman, and that when it ­happens, “that young woman will become the biggest story overnight”.

• Pitch begins at 10pm on Tuesday on OSN First HD

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 25, 2016 04:00 AM

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