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Pitch: Inside that heartbreaking premiere twist

Co-creator Dan Fogelman and star Kylie Bunbury on the emotional impact of that death

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Tommy Garcia/Fox

Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the series premiere of Pitch. Read at your own risk!

This fall, Dan Fogelman has become the master of the emotional family twist — first on This Is Us (spoiler alert) and now on Pitch.

The series premiere of Fox’s baseball drama introduced Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), Major League Baseball’s first female, becoming a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. With the eyes of the world on her, it’s understandable that Ginny would be dealing with an overwhelming amount of pressure — but viewers probably didn’t see the heartbreaking twist coming.

Via flashback, viewers learned how Ginny got her start: Frustrated that his son was uninterested in playing ball, Ginny’s father Bill (Michael Beach) decided to train his daughter. Taking stage parenting to new heights — Bill never made it past the minors himself — Ginny’s father used ruthless and menacing tactics that made Ginny feel that she was never good enough. That’s why, even in her debut in the majors, Ginny couldn’t get the specter of her father out of her head, causing her to throw wildly and ultimately exit the game early.

The twist? Following the state championship game that led a Padres scout to tap her for the minors years prior, Bill looked thisclose to finally giving Ginny the recognition she deserved — until a car slammed into their truck. That’s right, Bill is actually dead. He has, quite literally, been a specter; a manifestation of Ginny’s fears, hopes, and dreams, which serves to drive home the sad realization that Ginny will never get to share her triumph with her father.

“Oh my gosh, I was so surprised,” Bunbury tells EW of discovering the twist. “I cried a lot. That was really tough. I even get emotional thinking about it now. It’s so beautifully written, and it’s so powerful.”

Bill’s purpose in the premiere, Fogelman says, was to show that the dream of becoming the first female player in MLB has basically been ingrained in her since birth. “A pilot, for a television series and for a character, is kind of like the birth,” Fogelman says. “He’s been such a part of her story as Ginny was born into the world that I think he’s always looming. When you think about her in future episodes that have nothing to do with her childhood or her father, if you were a part of the series from inception, you remember the drive she had to succeed, because she’s solely been focused on the task at hand of being a successful major league baseball player.”

RELATED: Breaking down the Pitch premiere

Though it seems impossible to live up to the extremely high expectations of someone who is no longer alive, Bunbury believes Ginny achieved the goal set out by father and daughter. “You see it in the flashback — he says, ‘You’re going to learn this pitch, and you’re going to ride it all the way to the majors,’” Bunbury says. “That was his goal for her, and she achieved that goal. So she made it. She did it. I don’t think she’s living up to any expectations besides the ones that she places on herself, which is just to become a better ballplayer.”

“When Ginny walks out and it’s the empty field, I think that was the moment, because my ‘We did it, pop’ is a different ‘We did it, pop,'” Bunbury continues. “The other ones were, ‘Come on, let me know that I’ve done it, that I’m doing well.’ It was more for approval. At the end of the pilot, it’s ‘We did it, pop,’ and there’s more hope. ‘What more can I do?’ She feels assured of herself at that point.”

Therefore, don’t expect to see Ghost Dad again, even though Beach will continue to play a role on the show. “We’re often going to flash back to Ginny’s younger years, whether that means going into the Minor Leagues or even into her younger years, to help inform the present day story,” Fogelman says. “So we do see him again, but we’re not having a ghost version of him talking to her throughout. We’re never doing that part again.”

Pitch airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.

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