The first time the fictional woman making history for the Padres, filling in when one of their starting pitchers goes on the DL, meets her veteran catcher is on field during warm-ups. Their exchange is bland — as is most of the vacuous dialogue in the show, which manages to fill time without contributing at all to character development. As Female Pitcher exits the conversation, Veteran Catcher slaps her on the ass. Oh, the show producers decided just to step right into it with an obvious sexually-charged incident. To their credit, Female Pitcher is a rookie but no rube. She’s spent time in the minors and is seasoned in these kinds of exchanges. She calls Veteran Catcher on the physical contact, making clear that it is unwelcome. For the record, that is the proper response to discrimination in the workplace. Rather than respect her person and express choice, however, Veteran Catcher mansplains to her that he is a butt-slapper — it’s what he does, he does it to everyone, and she is required to tolerate it. I don’t think the creators intended that exchange to be a meta comment on sexism in sports or rape culture; rather, I think they were going for a moment that could be charged and make it about camaraderie. Veteran Catcher was treating Female Pitcher like one of the guys — that’s equality, right? She acquiesces in the end (she’s cool, she’s one of the guys — not some angry feminist), and the episode moves along.
How I wished that she would have instead said, “I’m serious. If you do that to me, I will punch you and I will do it in front of people.” And, then, I want her to follow through on that. Now that would have been a gritty move, but this show doesn’t have that level of commitment to creating an uppity, nasty, feminist woman. For as break-the-mold as the series is supposed to be, it really finds ways to confirm standard stereotypes. Female Pitcher isn’t a revolutionary, and the way she integrates the team is reassuring in how it conforms to traditional gender exchanges.
After Female Pitcher craps the bed in her first start, walking both batters she faces and throwing no strikes in ten pitches, we find her brooding in her hotel room. The wife of a Padres teammate she played with previously in the minors too shows up at her door. WAG has been through this before, she says. Ah-hah! Here was a golden opportunity for the series to be insightful about the mental aspect of sports. Every player has slumps or stretches of poor performance and dealing with those are part of the game. It’s insightful to raise this issue and note that WAG’s often support their player spouses when going through these times. Instead of using this opportunity to revalue the role of women, however, the producers fall back on sexist tropes. WAG breaks out the wine and she and Female Pitcher engage in girl talk about men — because having the drive and tenacity to achieve in male-dominated fields and being competent and committed in their performances, all women deal with their work problems by letting go with a girl’s night. Female Pitcher doesn’t even get to be psychologically tough or clever.
In the end, she battles her demons alone, drawing on the sadistic lessons she learned from Baseball Dad. It’s supposed to be a twist that Female Pitcher has internalized her father’s brutal cruelty, but, really, the shadow he casts over her is yet another way that men dominate this supposedly strong and determined woman. Without regard to pitch counts, she wears herself out throwing a punishment bullpen session, as if she’d never faced this moment before in her high school or minor league careers and just needs to remember where the zone is.
Despite putting herself through the pitching ringer, there are no assurances that she’s found her confidence as her second start looms. Grizzled Manager sends her out to the wolves, apparently without coaching her or even trying to assure himself that she is prepped (though I might have respected the show more if they had written him as downright opposed to having her on his team and warming guys in the bullpen even before first pitch — the show could use a substantive bad guy). The first batter comes up and Female Pitcher seems over her head, but then Veteran Catcher comes to her rescue with a braggadocios “pep talk” that is as bland and uninspiring as any other exchange on the show. Magically, Female Pitcher finds her screwball though and ekes out a passable outing, which is supposed to inspire girls in the stands — even if there’s nothing in this story that makes our heroine anything more than a lesser gimmick with nothing to really offer to the game (which might actually be interesting if the characters were better, the dialogue more useful, and they avoided the sexist stereotyping).
Clearly, the creators have made a show about a creature they can’t even imagine: a woman who is driven, psychologically tough, physically disciplined and a product of female strength instead of male instigation. I guess we can’t expect Female Pitcher to be better than Male Writers, but it sure would be nice for All Viewers just the same.