After our most Ginny-focused, least baseball-heavy episode, we get by far our least Ginny-heavy episode, furthering the theory we put forth last week about how this is a shift to a show about a group of people more than a show about Ginny alone. We’re mostly dealing with Mike Lawson in this episode, both his upbringing—it’s our first series of flashbacks that doesn’t have Ginny in them at all—and his current situation. And it’s powerful stuff.
Jarrett: Young Mike Lawson in flashbacks was really affecting. I think we knew he was the son of a single mother, or at least had it hinted at, but here we find out that his mother was a grifter. Young Mike is part of her cons, because everything is terrible, and as such he joins the Little League team in Poway, their latest home. (This establishes Lawson as not just a lifetime Padre but a lifetime San Diegan, right? How can they even consider trading him?)
Mike’s new Little League coach takes a suspiciously great interest in Mike while looking forlorn. He keeps offering Mike fatherly advice. He encourages him to become a catcher and learn the tricks of the trade. He ignores a dinner date with his family to spend time with Mike, at great aggravation to his wife. And then Mike pulls the con on the coach, getting money off him to fix a nonexistent problem on the Lawson family car, in theory so Mike can get rides to practice. And then after the grift gets caught and they’re running away again, Mama Lawson drops the bomb on poor Young Mike: the overly interested coach he just ripped off was actually Mike’s father. This made all the sense in the world after it was revealed, but I’ll admit, I didn’t see it coming at all.
Meg: I did not see this coming… or did I? Oh TV, you do like your tropes. The family stuff was really affecting because you can see a guy like Mike feeling like baseball is his family in a way that is far more real than his biological family was. And now he’s in danger of losing that, or having to experience it in a radically different way.
Jarrett: Is Little League Mike Lawson learning how to frame pitches from his estranged father the most heart wrenching scene in history or what? Or is it when Mike in present drives up to his father’s house, only to see him happily playing ball with his grandson that looks exactly like 1990 Mike Lawson did?
Meg: [The camera zooms in on the Pitch writers’ room] Hey so, what can we do to make Meg maximally upset? Mike Lawson playing catch with his estranged father? Fishing? (long pause) Nah, framing. Have ‘em frame. Poor little guy. That scene was crushing.
Jarrett: Present Mike Lawson has to deal with facing his continuing mortality in the form of our big Cuban signing from a few episodes ago, catching prospect Livan Duarte. Duarte is called up as an injury fill-in for Mike’s backup, which is used as an opportunity to push Mike to first, where he plays about as well as his everything-sake Mike Piazza did back in the day. This is all part of our big arc where the Padres are subtly trying to get Mike Lawson out the door to make room for Duarte full-time, of course.
Meg: Poor Mike. The background on his family was tough enough, but the scenes that bookended the episodes were the hardest for me. We see him get to the clubhouse early, and as he is undressing, get external indicators of his age: the wrapped ankle, the taped knees. He looks at a young, fit teammate and can’t help notice he’s not in the shape he was. At the end of episode, as players are getting off the team bus to their families, he’s alone, and you can see him feel his aloneness. He’s just heard a rumor he’ll be put on trade waivers. He considers calling Ginny at the end (their friendship warming up again after his split with Amelia was welcome), but even that relationship seems newly complicated for him. He’s very alone.
Jarrett: We meet Livan himself more here, and he’s a complicated dude. I think this is largely patterned on Yasiel Puig—we see through Oscar a similar backstory to Puig where Duarte kept trying to defect over and over again and was sent back, and has been enjoying America a little too much since he’s been there. And in that we address that it’s really unfair to put American baseball expectations on guys coming in from Cuba. It’ll be interesting to see how this one progresses, because there’s a lot of story to mine there.
Meg: I’m looking forward to the relationship between Oscar and Livan developing, as much as real relationships between GMs and players develop. Mike is never going to be the guy to mentor Livan, although if he weren’t being forced out that might be different. I would love to see a scene where Mike and Livan talk framing. Oscar’s pitch to Livan when he signed was that he knew what the guy had gone through, and could help guide him. The question will be if he lets him.
Jarrett: The Ginny of it all disposes with the hacked photos storyline quickly: to get in front of the story, Ginny, along with much of the Padres team, recruited by Amelia and Mike, poses for ESPN’s Body Issue. I don’t know how I feel about this storyline as a whole, but it least it was disposed of fairly quickly in a way that didn’t victimize Ginny or become unnecessarily tawdry. We also go back here to a pilot character pairing that hadn’t much been revisited since: Amelia and Oscar. At least it’s more antagonistic than overtly romantic—Amelia correctly calling Oscar out on mansplaining double-standards was one of the better moments of a great episode—but they did show more chemistry here than they had earlier.
Meg: There were several parts of this plot line I was worried would go horribly wrong, but then it ended up being fine. Blip tells Ginny that “as a woman,” she has to be smarter about taking selfies with an intimate partner—but immediately realizes how dumb he sounds saying that. Oscar sets out to explain how bad the situation is to Amelia, as if a woman needed any sort of reminder. Ginny rightfully reminds Amelia that the politics of her body as an athlete are perhaps different than those of an actress. The show isn’t always perfect, but one thing I really appreciate about it is the show’s ability to acknowledge Ginny’s situation as unique, while also showing she is just a person. “Haven’t you ever been lonely on the road?” she asks Blip. The stakes for her being just a person are different by virtue of her unique position, but the show doesn’t often try to use that as a platform to teach her a moral lesson about her gender. Who are the bad guys here? The goobers on the “underground website” (which, LOL) who are going to release the photos. How do her teammates react? By rallying around her as a teammate, albeit in their birthday suits. The only part of this I didn’t like was the small moment where Mike and Ginny both joke about taking a peek through the curtain at each other. Guys, don’t. Just. Don’t.
Jarrett: We also don’t entirely gloss over Ginny’s brutal bout with anxiety and stress. I really like the development of Al Luongo since our first few episodes, and we continue our thread from last week with him as the one empathizing with Ginny’s issues. He’s every cliched warm and fuzzy old manager, but Dan Lauria plays it really well, and Kylie Bunbury plays off of him really well.
Meg: His journey as a character has been one of my favorites, and is quietly one of the most optimistic on the show. He clearly sees Ginny as one of his players, someone he has an obligation to mentor and help guide. He’s still a crusty old manager, and he isn’t presented as unrealistically progressive, but he clearly sees her value as a player and a person.
Next week: The Mike trade talk comes to a head, Ginny’s brother visits (complete with a mysterious black eye), and Mike and Ginny have a fight. ‘Til then, may you bat flip in AT&T in your debut.