So what happens when the first woman is called up to a Major League Baseball team?
This is the story of Ginny Baker, a 23 year old phenom pitcher who is called up by the San Diego Padres as a starting pitcher. She’s good, she’s beautiful, and she’s got the expectations of millions of women and girls on her shoulders.
In addition, this is the story of the team around her – Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), a catcher at the end of his career; Amelia Slater (Ali Larter), Ginny’s agent; Blip Sander (Mo McRae), a Padres player and long time friend of Ginny’s from the minors; and Al Luongo (Dan Lauria) the manager of the team – a old man who’s had the world change and he’s not sure how to change with it.
There’s a lot of things happening. Ginny is faced with a mountain of pressure to do well. Her first game she’s greeted with thousands of little girls holding signs saying “I’m next” and all of the media either calling her the greatest thing that ever happened, or a failure before she even takes the mound. The Padres owner gives her the number 43, “One up from Jackie.”
The first few episodes work well because a sports underdog story has specific beats that audiences relate to, such as the scrappy underdog and the grizzled veteran who takes her under his wing and helps her get her head on straight. There’s usually a training montage and a win against all odds. We get that, mostly, and then, once they’ve established who everyone is through a familiar narrative, then we get into the meat of the show.
I love Ginny, but the character I’m most delighted with is Mike. I am of the perfect age to have grown up with Saved by the Bell, so I can see this is the guy that Zack Morris grew up to be. Watching Mark-Paul sink his teeth into a guy who’s trying to get his body to hold out for JUST a few more years while he figures out his post-baseball life has been fun. (And given that we’ve just had my beloved Big Papi, Boston’s own David Ortiz, finish up his spectacular last season, it’s especially timely.)
I never would have expected Mark-Paul (look, I grew up with the guy, we are on a first name basis) to be the one out of the SBtB crew to have to actual career (that would have been Lark Voorhes). But here we are!
And the relationship between Ginny and Mike is lovely. They have fantastic chemistry, and one of the grand traditions in baseball is how the old hands teach the new kids how to behave and mentor them through the transition to the major leagues. And a pitcher and a catcher should have a good working relationship- they need to be able to communicate silently and know what the other is going to do.
And once Mike and Ginny establish their boundaries and demand respect from each other, they find a good, solid rapport and lovely relationship builds.
They are not shying away from the current concerns of rape culture in sports. In the second episode, Ginny is asked to comment on a rape accusation in another sport, and at first she’s unwilling to do so, for very good reasons – she’s got a lot on her plate just trying to cope with her own team, and it’s not her duty to comment on every gender-related thing in sports.
But then after thinking about it, she says, on Jimmy Fallon! “We need to make sure every boy knows it’s wrong to rape.” Which for a network show? That’s HUGE.
(They have also tweeted pictures of adding Jessica Luther’s book Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape to Ginny’s apartment/hotel room set, which is amazing.)
The other thing I want to talk about is the production values. They shoot in the Padre’s stadium, Petco Park, and have actual MLB branding, so there’s no suspension of disbelief on the part of trying to think that a minor league stadium is really a major league ballpark. That helps a lot.
I am not really a sports person, but I had roommates for two years who are HUGE Red Sox fans, and we watched a lot of games. I would ask intelligent questions, so I have a reasonable understanding of how the game works. I’m also a Boston girl, and it’s hard to live in Boston and not have an appreciation for the Red Sox. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball to enjoy this show (like, if you get A League of Their Own, you have a sufficient grounding in baseball), but if you know things, there are treats thrown in for you.
Look, this little show needs some help. Ratings have fallen since the premiere.
It’s a great show with a great cast and I want to see where it can go. I also think a lot of you would like it.