There’s a certain feeling that wells up when you’ve just entered a room you were never supposed to be in. These rooms never have an overt warning sign; it’s just an unspoken rule set by the people who built it: Obviously, this place belongs to us and only us. I’ve felt it in frat houses and conference rooms, and sometimes even heard the protests — that sweet sound of people shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They don’t know what to make of someone who, because of some combination of race, gender, class, or sex, wasn’t ever supposed to make it inside their bastion of [insert privilege here] power. Pitch, Fox's new show about a Black woman who is a starting pitcher for an MLB team, confronts that feeling a lot — its lead character isn't embraced by the hyper-masculine universe of the MLB, and her teammates won't let her forget it.
Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), the star of Pitch, is good at baseball. She’s tall and strong, built like an athlete but looks like a movie star. The 23-year-old has a mean screwball throw — which has earned her a reputation in the minor-league games before the show’s pilot begins. From the time that Baker’s dark, curly hair and brown skin fill the screen in Pitch’s first few moments to her entrance into the locker room of the San Diego Padres, Pitch wants you to understand that its star has committed the gravest of all the cardinal sins: She’s better than the boys. Baker’s talent is, through the course of the first episode, squandered and questioned and then proven a couple times over. As far as baseball shows go, this one seems fairly realistic where the sport is concerned. I've never been able to keep my eyes open during a baseball game (it's boring; I don't have the patience to argue this), but I can see the discord between the optics of Pitch's team and the makeup of baseball's teams in real life. Cuban players are making and unmaking baseball's white American canon in real time — in a way that's fascinating even to me, someone who really can't appreciate the sport — and that dialogue is missing from Pitch's baseball diamond. Instead, it turns its eyes to the toxic culture of a boys' club. Moments before Baker walks into that locker room, she knows she’s not welcome there. She can already sense that familiar silence when a room full of men isn’t exactly clear how to respond to a woman's presence. She’s been plucked from the minor leagues to start for the San Diego MLB team, and its bespectacled owner has come down to greet her. “Your teammates are all eager to meet you,” he says politely. But Baker already knows the truth. “No, they’re not. Ticketing and sales people — they're excited to meet me,” she clarifies. “My teammates? Seventy-five percent think I’m the next San Diego chicken, the other 25% just want to see me shower. And I bet your manager thinks you should have called up [another player] instead of me. But none of that matters, you know why? Because today I’m a starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres.”
The rest of the show falls into place predictably enough with all the usual suspects. Baker’s father was her hard-nosed coach, a Black man who likely knew before she did that there were rooms she might never be allowed into, echelons she would never be permitted to reach. He’s a washed-up former star who shoves her into success. Ali Larter is Baker’s agent, a handler more high-maintenance than her client. There’s a social media guru on payroll who just mashes words together and sprinkles in a reference to this or that B-lister for effect. Mark Consuelos plays Oscar, the charming front-office man tasked with making Baker’s transition to the Major League — and the men who inhabit it — a smooth one. A few words about those men, who chew their tobacco and slouch in the Padres' dugout. Their sexism — and the sexism the show overall tries very hard to depict — is too often overt in a way that feels unrealistic. It’s easy to question the brooding team captain (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) when he slaps his young female rookie on her ass. (For what it’s worth, Baker calls him out on it, demanding that she won’t be made a fool of for him to put on the show for the boys.) What’s more difficult is to feel and identify misogynoir — when sexism and anti-Black racism intertwine — in real life. For all of the pride (and sexist chatter online) surrounding Pitch, you can almost feel the self-consciousness of the show’s producers in its first episode. They want us to see and appreciate that they’ve made a show about a woman who is trying to be something other than a Kardashian. What’s less clear is if they know they’ve made a show about a Black woman. This, the pilot for a show about being a Black woman in a sport dominated by men, seems to only be able to let Baker feel one of these identities at a time.