Walking into the Padres clubhouse is like stepping into a testosterone-fueled, sweaty man cave. Half-naked players roam the halls lined with team logos from decades past; others play video games on the overhead TVs, surrounded by jockstrap-stuffed lockers adorned with photos of gorgeous pin-ups. The attention to detail makes it easy to forget you’re not actually in the team’s hallowed halls in San Diego, but on a soundstage on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles, the setting of a historical moment in the making.
This fall on Pitch, Major League Baseball will welcome its first female player, Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), who becomes an overnight sensation with all eyes in America on her as she breaks the MLB glass ceiling. While this story is fictional, MLB played a major role is bringing it to fruition, partnering with Fox to provide the show inside access to the sport in a way that’s never been seen before on series television.
To start, co-creator Dan Fogelman met with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to get the league’s blessing and guidance. “Their main ask, honestly more than anything, was that we get the baseball world authentic,” Fogelman says. “When we do something, we consult with God knows how many people and it’s a lot of work to say, ‘How would this happen?'”
Among those technical advisors that help the show accurately provide an all-access pass to the world of professional baseball include Baltimore Oriole Gregg Olson, who helped train Bunbury in how to pitch, Dodger veteran Chad Kreuter, and baseball coordinator Michael J. Fisher, who also worked on Moneyball.
Though the show strives to keep up to date on what’s happening in the current season — National League standings were updated in real time on the white board in the skip’s office when EW hit the set — Fogelman says there are lines they have to draw, likening Pitch‘s methods to that of Jerry Maguire. “It gets really confusing if you start trying to pretend that Ginny’s on the 2016 San Diego Padres, but then also all these other characters who have speaking roles, who are they supposed to be?” he says. “Will the Texas Rangers have the best record in baseball because they have the best record in baseball in real life? We’re fictionalizing that stuff as needed. The Padres team in the show will not be correlated to how the Padres are doing in real life.”
While Pitch can’t use real players’ names or numbers — hence a jersey adorned with “Fogelman 82” hanging in the clubhouse — it can feature the real All-Star Game, which was hosted this season by the Padres. Big-name guest stars from the world of baseball will also be sprinkled throughout the season like Easter eggs — diehards are rewarded without casual viewers being alienated.
To give viewers at home a genuine, unfettered experience, executive producer Paris Barclay also created a dual shooting style while directing the pilot. “Because I was familiar enough with how the game is presented on television, I wanted to differentiate the game that you see on TV, in this particular case the game that Fox records, from the game that you can’t see on TV,” says Barclay. “We built this whole technique of the Fox presentation of baseball, which has its graphics, and then with a different color and a different look, you’re into what you don’t see when you watch baseball, which is the conversations they have on the mound, the moments where you can’t be close enough to really see what the pitcher and the catcher are communicating to each other.”
“That’s because,” Barclay admits, “I’ve always wanted to know, when I see them on the mound and the gloves are up, what exactly are they saying? With Pitch, we can actually take you in there, we can take you into the dugout, and give you an all-access pass to baseball.”
Just like in the pros, production is even careful to rein in how often Bunbury takes the mound. “We have to count every pitch she throws when we’re shooting,” Barclay says. “She cannot pitch in two successive days, just like a regular pitcher. We’ve got to schedule it so she rests, takes time off, does her stretching, and does all of the things that a professional pitcher has to do, because it can be very debilitating.”
Despite going to great lengths to keep the show realistic, all involved stress that Pitch isn’t just a sports show. “Baseball is like the gigantic Trojan horse that we’re busting down the doors of network television with,” Barclay says. “Inside the Trojan horse is a story about a woman finding her place in a man’s world.”
Fogelman likens his show to a heightened workplace drama much like The West Wing, even down to the fast-paced walk-and-talks throughout the stadium — both fake on the Paramount lot and real when they film at locales like the Padres’ Petco Park and Dodgers stadium.
The show will therefore highlight tentpole moments in a baseball season (like the trade deadline) while telling societal stories about race, discrimination, and sexuality — all very real concerns in professional sports and beyond. “Eventually we’ll even get to the fact that she’s a black woman on the mound,” Barclay says. (Fogelman notes the character wasn’t written with race in mind.) “Someone’s going to ask her about Black Lives Matter, someone’s going to ask her about what’s going on in the world. Sooner or later, Ginny Baker is going to be faced with a lot of different questions, not just about her gender, but about her race and about her role in society. So there’s a lot of story to tell. We can do this for about 10 years.”
Pitch debuts Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.