LOS ANGELES-Girl power rocks. Female empowerment rule. Get used to it. The inevitable will soon become undeniable. Pro sports is a part of this equation. The day of women actually competing against men at the professional level in sports may not happen now, but can it be that far off?
Could we see Major League Baseball interject itself into another social groundbreaking moment by introducing fans of the game to the first female baseball player? Maybe. Maybe not. But why not? All things are possible if you believe, right?
There was a time in this country where we didn’t think we could ever see the color barrier broken in baseball or in sports period. You remember Jackie Robinson? Yeah, Robinson is the guy who was brought up from the Negro Leagues to take part in Branch Rickey’s “Noble Experiment” to become the first African American ballplayer in the big leagues.
Not only did Robinson break the down the color wall in sports, he emptied the concrete by becoming the National League Rookie of the Year, the league’s MVP a couple of years later, and of course being enshrined into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Robinson had a much bigger social impact on the game itself by relieving the sport of its whites-only clubhouse mentality long before the Civil Rights Movement hit its stride of fighting for racial equality.
With the country on the cusp of possibly voting in the first woman as President of the United States, the idea of a female being good enough to play at the major league level should not be too far-fetched off the radar.
Barriers are being broken down the way dominoes fall. But these are behind-the-scenes roles that both Hammon and Smith currently occupy, not actual on-the-field and on-the-floor mixing with their male counterparts.
Fox Television’s new series “Pitch,” starring Kylie Bunbury,” challenges the notion that a woman can’t play with the big boys. I know it’s a big difference in size, age and velocity, but weren’t we all amazed a couple of years ago when Mo’ne Davis dominated the Little League World Series by striking out male batters left and right with the aplomb of a seasoned vet?
So why is it not conceivable that a woman can play in the big leagues? With the premiere of “Pitch” levied at The Bad News Bears Field in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Sept. 13, cast members from the show, including Bunbury, Mo McRae, Meagan Holder and Christian Ochoa took the bottle for a spin to articulate what the show means and what it represents.
Bunbury, who plays the lead role of Ginny Baker, said her character doesn’t possess any type of mythical powers, but is just an ordinary girl unafraid to think big.
“I would describe Ginny as a regular girl. She’s not a superhero,” said Bunbury as she closed out the red carpet event. “She’s a regular girl with a lot of focus, a lot drive, and she’s a dreamer. She pushes herself to obtain her dreams.”
Playing a fictional baseball player is hard enough for anyone to play, especially getting the nuances of a pitcher down pat to a science. The strength and conditioning of a professional athlete works muscles that otherwise might not get tapped.
In Bunbury’s case that meant emulating the motions of a real-life pitcher to make her role believable. Having backup in the form of her father, Alex Bunbury, a former professional soccer player, and a brother (Teal Bunbury), who is currently playing at that level, no doubt played a part in her getting the cadence of a pro athlete right.
“This is more pocket for me because the fact that I grew up around pro athletes…it was a lot easier for me to get into that-mentally and physically,” Bunbury said.
Baseball, of course, is a different beast than playing soccer. So for Bunbury, who never played baseball, this was a unique challenge for her to try and master.
“[It’s] very challenging,” Bunbury said. “I’ve never played baseball before. I grew up playing basketball, soccer and I ran track. So (the role) it was extraordinarily challenging, especially when you get down to the dry mechanics of it. So I tried to approach it as a more of a dance. So for two and a half months, before the pilot, I feel I did alright.”
Bunbury will no doubt inspire millions of young female fans everywhere. She already has one admirer from an up and close perspective in the shadow of Corinne Massiah, who plays the young Ginny Baker in “Pitch.”
“She has a drive a drive that I really admire,” Massiah said. “She’s really awesome.”
Admiration seems to be the running theme when it comes to the idea of a woman smashing another societal glass ceiling, fictionalized or otherwise. For Mo McRae, who plays Blip Sanders, a ballplayer who sympathizes with the isolation and the indifference attitudes of teammates that Baker deals with, the show is an opportunity that presents real-life tribulations of those who are perceived to be different.
Sound familiar? It’s almost identical to the same script set in stone when Robinson cut into Major League Baseball’s color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Sanders, McRae’s character, is on an island himself as an African American intertwined in a sport that is predominantly white, so he feels Baker’s pain.
Black players make up just 8% of all major league baseball players, according to USA Today Sports. So the empathy towards a woman trying to make inroads into uncharted and unwanted waters of equal opportunity is something an African American ballplayer would more likely relate to.
“This role literally means the world to me,” McRae said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to get to depict this type of character on television because he (Blip Sanders) goes against so many of the stereotypes, cliches associated with athletes, professional athletes, African American male. This is guy is married. He’s a family man. He’s being extremely supportive and passionate about this endeavor for Ginny Baker’s character to be accepted. It’s a beautiful role. It’s a great show.”
McRae sees the reality of a woman playing with men in professional sports, particularly baseball, more closer to happening than not.
“It can happen at any moment,” McRae said. “I think that the people that are the gatekeepers, essentially, are open to the idea, then it can happen. It’s not a question of whether or not a woman has the ability to do it, but it’s really more about the people that are in control, if they have the ability to allow it to happen and be supportive of it.”
McRae’s character isn’t the only one in Ginny Baker’s corner. His on-screen wife, Evelyn Sanders, played by Holder, gives the show’s lead character an added boost of support.
“We’re the only ones who know Ginny Baker before the rest of the world come to know her in this pilot,” Holder said. “I am really a friend of hers aside from a baseball teammate. I’m her friend, regardless.”
Holder said the wide range of diversity, in front of the camera and behind the scenes, is what resonates the most with her about the show.
“The message, specifically for young girls and diversity, it shows diverse women playing good friends, diverse women doing important things, diverse women who are taking control of their futures and being positive examples,” Holder said. “I think it is so important. I’m so grateful to be part of the show.”
Ochoa is glad to be part of the show as well, but for different reasons. Ochoa gets to live out his childhood fantasy of being a baseball player. Before he jumped into acting, Ochoa, who plays a Cuban catcher (Livan Duarte) in “Pitch,” had a lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues.
Since that didn’t work out for him, Ochoa is happy on settling to play ball in front of the camera.
“It’s kind a dream come true,” Ochoa said. “Although I didn’t get to major league baseball, I get to pretend that I play major league baseball.”
The role Ochoa plays in “Pitch” is just part of a bigger picture being painted about acceptance and social tolerance, he said.
“The empowerment of women, gender equality, not just gender equality, but these issues in general…there should be conversations,” Ochoa said. “With what’s going on now with (Colin) Kaepernick and everything going on with race and gender. It all hits the same thing.
“I think we’ve got to start seeing people as equals. I think the show will open a lot of eyes to people. I’m sure she’s going to rub people the wrong way-that she’s a female on the team. Good. Rub people the wrong way. That’s how conversations get started and that’s how things get changed.”