Pitch was co-created by Dan Fogelman, the suddenly ubiquitous TV writer behind projects such as the alien-invader sitcom The Neighbors and the medieval musical spoof Galavant. But it feels most similar to another show he has debuting on NBC this fall, the family drama This Is Us, which my colleague Megan Garber aptly described as “must-weep TV.” Pitch doesn’t lunge at the heartstrings with quite the same ferocity of that show, but it’s playing on similar tropes: The kinds of movies viewers saw as children that follow a classic three-act-structure of expectation, adversity, and eventually, triumph.
In Pitch, Ginny Baker’s debut on the mound for the Padres is a national event, selling out tickets, packing the stands with young girls inspired by her example, and prompting sportscasters to compare her moment to Jackie Robinson famously breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The show takes ample advantage of Fox’s resources to replicate the broadcast experience of a real game, down to interjections from talking heads like Katie Nolan and Colin Cowherd. At times, the entire thing feels like a massive cross-advertisement for Fox Sports 1, but that sort of synergy is so common in the industry today that it’s hard to object.
Plenty of things go wrong for Ginny, of course. Most of the team is skeptical that her inclusion is anything but a publicity stunt. The aging star catcher Mike Lawson (a neck-bearded Mark-Paul Gosselaar) can’t help but condescend, even after Ginny tells him she bought his rookie card as a kid; the manager Al Luongo (a grouchy Dan Lauria) is planning to bump her back down to the minors once an injured pitcher is back on the roster. Ginny’s biggest fans are her sharp-elbowed agent Amelia Slater (Ali Larter, her face in a permanent grimace) and the Padres owner (Bob Balaban), who knows a branding opportunity when he sees one. Behind it all is the looming specter of her father Bill (Michael Beach), who pushed her into the sport as a youngster with troubling intensity.
Fogelman and his co-creator Rick Singer lob the clichés so hard and fast, it’s hard to be offended by any particular one. Ginny’s banished to a broom closet while the team figures out where to put its woman’s locker room…but then she’s won over by the sight of her new uniform. An early rough patch sees her throw three wild pitches as she struggles to settle her nerves…but settle them she does. Lawson doesn’t think she can handle the heat … but by the end of the episode, she’s begun to prove herself. Pitch is absolutely uninterested in upending its sports formula outside of changing the gender of its lead character, but there’s a good reason for that. It’s undeniably exciting to see Ginny on the field in a Padres uniform, with the crisp Fox broadcasting logos around her. This is a show that’s confident in the power of its central image.