Pitch Review: Beanball

While SoSH Baseball’s bread-and-butter is the rigorous analysis of baseball for both the major leagues and minor leagues, we try to cover the sport from all angles. We also look at the game’s off-the-field stories, weekly occurrences, as well as the remarkable and weird. When Fox announced a weekly series focused on baseball entitled Pitch, we were already excited to cover it.

In baseball parlance, a “beanball” is a pitch deliberately thrown at an opposing player in hopes of hitting them in retaliation for some on-field transgression. Sometimes, it is in revenge for a violation of an unwritten rule – such as bunting with a no-hitter still intact – and sometimes it is in furtherance of a “beanball war” where two teams trade hit batsmen in response to perceived disrespect.

Pitch’s third episode, “Beanball”, features more game action than the previous two installments. The Padres face the St. Louis Cardinals, and bad blood exists between the teams from an earlier (off-screen) meeting where Cardinals starter Theo Falcone plunked Padres hurler Tommy Miller, breaking his finger. The announcers – the legendary Dick Enberg in his final year as the voice of the real-life Padres – set the stage for a confrontation. With Ginny Baker on the mound, will the Padres seek to exact revenge upon Falcone? Or will tradition be set aside (because Baker is a “girl”)?

The game action remains believable. Both Cardinals pitchers are professional actors – not former minor league ballplayers – yet both feature realistic deliveries and follow-throughs. Smartly, the showrunners avoid Baker trying to actually hit – a dubious proposition for any pitcher– and jump right to the beanball action. Padres manager Al Luongo gets tossed while exchanging lineup cards before the game even begins. He then uses his free time during the game to set up a private dinner in the clubhouse with principal shareholder Maxine Armstrong. Referencing the previous week’s disastrous press conference, he manages to save his job by convincing the silent, majority owner that firing him now would make it look like Baker is a “coach killer.”

On the field, Baker ignores the advice of catcher and team captain Mike Lawson, and drills Falcone. Upon returning to the dugout and with Miller’s support, she convinces Lawson and fill-in manager Buck Garland to let her take her turn at the plate. In previous episodes Miller had been Baker’s antagonist, openly bitter that she had taken his spot on the roster (and in the rotation). However, after the Cardinals refuse to throw at her and Baker is deliberately, but not intentionally walked, she takes a few steps towards the mound and yells at the opposing pitcher “you won’t hit me because I’m a girl?!” With Trevor Davis, the Cards catcher – and Baker’s ex-boyfriend – trying to intervene, Miller sprints out of the Padres dugout and executes a flying tackle on the opposing catcher. Benches clear and both Miller and Baker are tossed from the game. As they leave the field the two share a fistbump. Baker has done her duty in the beanball war, and Miller rewards her willingness to play by the unwritten rules of baseball. By putting herself in harm’s way and starting the brawl with her “won’t back down” attitude, she has earned his respect as a ballplayer.

“Beanball” spotlights Baker and the other characters confronting a situation they’d rather not be in and are forced to navigate to maintain their place on the team. “Principal” owner Frank Reid, who up till now has been presented as being fully in control, is actually just the front man for the consortium led by Armstrong that owns the team. When Armstrong threatens his job if he does not back off his desire to terminate Luongo as manager, he has no choice but to capitulate.

Meanwhile, Baker could obey Lawson and not participate in the beanball war. She believes that if she backs down none of her teammates will respect her as a ballplayer. She continues to value the team concept over her own fame. Her willingness to be “part of the team” and to stand up for a teammate gets her invited out with “the boys” to celebrate the win.

Courage often consists of doing something scary and accepting the consequences. The Cardinals hurler, “The Mountain”, is presented as a huge, scary fireballer. Baker is shown to have courage, not just by throwing at Falcone but by stepping into the batter’s box against an opponent designed to intimidate. That he does not throw at Baker enrages the rookie pitcher. She challenges him and the Cardinals’ catcher with some pushing and shoving. Baker’s courage is obvious in this minor confrontation, and the way she continues to try to bond with her teammates and succeed in the big leagues.

With the Major League Baseball playoffs rolling, Pitch will probably be interrupted over the next few weeks. But do yourself a favor, and set the DVR to record it. Not only is the baseball action believable, the lead actress Kylie Bunbury is an undeniable presence on the screen. The show understands that baseball is endlessly fascinating both on and off the field.


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Featured image courtesy of Fox.

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