By Alexa Day
Right up until the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, I was prepared to complain about the direction the show had taken. I’d spent most of the seventh season tuning in to listen to the endless rambling of Negan, who is basically a schoolyard bully with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. I could not figure out why people who had driven glass into their enemies’ eyes or torn out their enemies’ throats with their teeth were afraid of a big Chatty Cathy doll with a bat, and I’d started to lose interest in that particular mystery.
But I have to thank Negan for something. If he hadn’t annoyed the living daylights out of me, I might never have spent half an episode looking for other things to watch. If I hadn’t gone shopping for alternatives, I would never have found Pitch. I think I may be the last person in North America to have found the Fox series about the first woman to play major league baseball, but my tardiness meant I could binge-watch the whole season, so I’m grateful for it.
Pitch rescued me from the depths of television despair. It’s amazing. It’s given me reason to believe in regular network television again.
Well, the easy answer is that it’s clearly put together by people who give a damn about what they’re doing and have the talent to do it well. I think that’s getting lost in television these days. How much television is being produced by people writing random stories that don’t make sense because they don’t think you’ll ever quit watching? Too much.
The true beauty of Pitch is that it isn’t about baseball at all. It’s about a large group of tight-knit characters who interact with each other and each other’s issues against the backdrop of baseball. Baseball is more of a setting in the way that New York City is a setting. It’s important but it doesn’t drive the story.
A lot of other things make Pitch beautiful.
1. There are no one-dimensional characters, even in the secondary cast. We know that Ginny’s agent, Amelia, used to represent celebrities, and so we know why she needs to protect Ginny from herself. We also know that Amelia’s struggle with infertility cost her a relationship, which adds a touch of vulnerability to her hard-charging facade. The general manager (Mark Consuelos, looking good) recruits a Cuban player by pitching a doll’s head at him. It’s the opening to a very well written conversation about two immigrants whose lives were changed by an all-American game. Ginny’s teammate, Blip, and his glamorous wife have an argument about how their marriage is not built on what they each wanted from life. It’s hard to create an entire cast of well-rounded characters, but there is a giant payoff in feeling every character’s fears, joys, and crushing disappointments. There’s a bigger payoff in not knowing whether a beloved character will find the happiness they want so badly or face another setback.
2. Complex feminism. I missed Pitch when it first showed up in September because I thought it was going to depend on one-note feminism. If I knew that a woman could do the job, and she knew she could do the job, I didn’t want to spend a whole season watching her prove it to the world at large. (In September, that felt a lot like the real world.) Pitch establishes right away that Ginny can do the job well enough to stay on the team. Much of the rest of the season touches on the kind of things women have to deal with in the universe outside professional baseball. Ginny has to balance her job with her social life; her groupies are all female and with her job, she struggles to find time to date. Ginny and her agent have to deal with leaked nude photos. (Their solution, which involves the ESPN Body Issue, is brilliant.) Ginny’s entire family has always wanted her to achieve this level of success, but once she’s arrived, they all have different issues with her. None of us are strangers to the pressure to maintain an image, build friendships, find romance, and establish a solid professional standing. Watching Ginny try, and sometimes fail, to do it live on the JumboTron made me want to cheer for her all the more.
3. Mike Lawson. Mike’s not the typical sports hero. The bottom half of his face is hidden beneath a thick beard. He’s starting to go to seed. Much is made of his bad knees. Age is catching up to him and he knows it. He’s the team captain, and he keeps the younger guys in line with the knowledge and wisdom that come with a long career. But that career has cost him just about everything, and when we join the story, we’re watching him deal with the ruins of the marriage he sacrificed to baseball, the erosion of his body, and the threat of being replaced. Mike’s earned his alpha status with the team, but we get to see him in private, too, at his most vulnerable. I’m not sure that we as romance writers are creating enough characters like Mike, but he’s the reason I keep coming back. I have the highest hopes for him, along with the deepest fears.
Of course, there’s bad news. Nothing’s free in this world, right?
As magnificent as Pitch is, we won’t see new episodes until next fall. That’s criminal, but I can see how it might have happened. It just bothers me that I have to wait that long to rejoin the story, and I’m scared that Fox will come up with some baseless reason to get rid of it.
I’m also worried about what will happen to Pitch if it does come back. Right after watching the world fall apart for all these wonderful characters, in exactly the way the world should fall apart in a season finale, I sat back with a contented sigh and wondered if I’d ever felt so happy with a television show. That’s when I remembered Sleepy Hollow. That first season finale was a thing of beauty. After that, it was like the writers became jealous of its glory and tried to destroy it. They finally succeeded by killing one of the leads, but they worked really hard to wreck that show before then.
(Sleepy Hollow isn’t completely dead, by the way. It’s just dead to me.)
So while I’m working through the next several months, waiting for Pitch to return, I’m on the lookout for other distractions. Fanfiction writers are already linking Ginny and Mike, which sounds just lovely to me but might not be the best idea for them. And I imagine I could be seeking out more sports romances during this long interval.
Just be warned. Pitch has presented me with an appropriately diverse professional baseball team. I will be pretty disappointed to find that romance can’t do the same.
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