Produced in concert with Major League Baseball, “Pitch” features an intriguing premise, a slick pilot and a winning lead in Kylie Bunbury. The question is whether this drama about the first woman to play professional baseball has the right stuff to survive in TV’s big leagues.
The opening innings bode reasonably well, at least in establishing the media frenzy that would be unleashed by the female version of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball — a connection that’s overtly referenced.
At the center of it all is Bunbury’s Ginny Baker, who, thanks to her father (Michael Beach) learned how to uncork a wicked screwball, a pitch designed to compensate for any deficiency in arm strength relative to the guys.
“Pitch” doesn’t shy away from sports-movie clichés, including Ginny’s skeptical teammates when she’s called up by the San Diego Padres, some of whom see her as a seat-filling gimmick. There are also dollops of casual sexism and a first mound appearance that goes well beyond rookie jitters and comes closer to “Major League” territory before they fitted Charlie Sheen’s character with glasses.
The same broad-strokes approach largely applies to the supporting cast, from Ginny’s take-no-prisoners agent (“Heroes'” Ali Larter) to the team’s gruff catcher/resident ladies man, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. There’s also a narrative twist that’s unexpected and clever, but pretty shamelessly manipulative as well.
Finally, there’s reason to feel a bit queasy about the close involvement of Major League Baseball, and the synergies of having Fox’s play-by-play man, Joe Buck, appearing within the show calling Ginny’s games.
Even so, Bunbury is both credible and instantly likable — a young woman with her share of self-doubts but also plenty of confidence and grit to spare. Having appeared previously in CBS’ “Under the Dome” and the miniseries “Tut,” she’ll be the clear MVP if the series goes the distance.
“Pitch” actually has something in common with one of the fall’s other more promising newcomers, ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” in which Kiefer Sutherland plays a cabinet member who suddenly becomes President. Each possesses a promising idea for launching the show, with the disclaimer that the frontloaded premiere will become less of a novelty over time as the protagonist settles into his/her role.
In that sense, initial enthusiasm about the show should probably be tempered by the difference — in TV as well as sports — between a solid debut and a long career.
“Pitch” premieres September 22 at 9 p.m. on Fox.