What does Mike Lawson want? In many ways, that’s been the core question of Pitch since we transitioned from a show about the first woman to play Major League Baseball to a ensemble dramedy about a baseball team that just happens to include the first woman to play Major League Baseball. As the Padres sit through a rare rain delay and a Kangaroo Court, Mike confronts his age, the waiver wire, and what he really wants. And once he decides, it blows the whole thing up.
Jarrett: We know Mike Lawson wants to win. In Pitch world, the Padres are sitting around as fringe contenders shortly before the August waiver trade deadline, six games out of the second wild card. New Padres overlord of baseball operations Kevin Connolly has ordered Oscar to figure out a way to trade Mike and his no-trade clause for a top prospect. It’s the Chicago Cubs, seeking to upgrade at catcher on their way to breaking the curse (does Willson Contreras exist for these Cubs?) offering the best deal.
We know Mike Lawson wants to stay in San Diego. It’s his home. He’s a career Padre, the team captain, a fifteen-year veteran. He’s this generation’s Tony Gwynn, right? But we find out from Blip that the Padres haven’t made the playoffs for five seasons running, and realistically a team six games out in late-August only has a couple percent chance to make the game where you have a fifty percent chance to make the real playoffs. And time is running out for Mike Lawson, with bad knees and Livan Duarte. Soon he’ll be in a broadcaster’s booth, not behind a plate, and maybe not in San Diego at all.
We know Mike Lawson wants love and family. We’ve seen him cycle through a relationship with Amelia. We’ve seen him try to get back together with his ex-wife a few times. We’ve seen him long for a relationship with his estranged father, only to realize his father has a whole family of his own. Mike has brooded and pondered and drank. In this episode he finally lashes out, at Ginny, Blip, the rest of the Padres in Kangaroo Court, Oscar, and really anyone else who is in the path of Mike Lawson.
Ultimately, though, we learn that what Mike Lawson really wants is Ginny Baker. Pitch has never been particularly subtle about this, but Mike talking Omar out of his schoolboy crush on Ginny reveals that Mike has serious feelings for our girl. Feelings which Mike seems to realize at the end of the episode. Feelings that might push him to Chicago. Feelings that Meg keeps sending me messages about, hoping Pitch will continue to avoid. Feelings that Pitch is clearly not going to continue to avoid.
Meg: We knew this was going to happen. He’s a handsome catcher, she’s a spirited pitcher, they’re both are keen on stats, and this is television. The previews for the next episode hints at just how much this is actually going to take place as the season winds down. But we have to face facts: Mike Lawson has feelings for Ginny (Please read “feelings” in the same tone Mike used when upbraiding Omar. “People who don’t clean up after their dogs! Feelings!”). Can we take a moment to appreciate the masterful little bit of acting Mark-Paul Gosselaar does in the scene in the weight room. They’ve made their peace, and Ginny starts humming “Firework” by Katy Perry and stretching. The camera, from Mike’s POV lingers a little overlong on her form. When we see Mike’s face, Gosselaar does so much, going from admiration to longing to realization to resolve in a matter of seconds. You can practically see the thought bubble over his head. “Oh no.” Minny (Minny? Gike is worse somehow) isn’t a relationship we want and raises a bunch of questions: why can’t shows just let men and women be friends? Is he asking for a trade to get away from Ginny or to be with her? Is he trying to remove the temptation, be a stand up guy because he realizes this is a terrible idea, or does it open the door wider? And what happens if the trade falls through because the Cubs remember they have Willson Contreras (sorry Willson)? Are we going to spend the first half of the second season dealing with the fallout of Minny? I wonder if part of this is the show not knowing if they’ve been renewed for a second season and figuring they may as well go for it.
And a question about Mike’s trade: did this seem to all happen very, very quickly to you? At 36, it isn’t unreasonable that they are trade him while his value is at its peak. Waiting for signs of decline isn’t especially savvy. But they are a fringe contender, made a run at the deadline, and are now going to rely on a rookie catcher their own GM has noted isn’t ready for full time duty.
Jarrett: Not only is it happening weirdly fast—again, this may be a result of not getting a back-half order and uncertain prospects for renewal—but they’ve absolutely underdeveloped the reasons why the Padres would ever want to move Mike Lawson. Could the return really be that much for a 36-year-old catcher going into his walk year? It can’t really be money, because it’s only a month of salary. It only really makes sense as a narrative device to push Mike and Ginny combinations of closer and away, and this show had been doing a better job of coming up with Good Baseball Stories than that.
We also get the return of Ginny’s brother Will in this episode. We retcon his previous appearances as a well-meaning oaf screwing up as her agent into something more malicious. Here, he’s a conman on the lam from loansharks—hey, something else Ginny and Mike have in common—trying to snake Ginny (and an unsuspecting Evelyn) into using her fame and money into investing in a sports bar chain. We learn some backstory about how Amelia paid off a $20,000 debt for him in the background of the pilot to keep Will and his trouble the heck away from Ginny. I am not a huge fan of this plot and in a larger sense I’m not a huge fan of the idea that every single episode needs to have some sort of Ginny family drama.
Meg: I could do an episode without a flashback. Mike’s was affecting, and I guess this is one way of taking the old “show me, don’t tell me” adage seriously, but can we spend a whole episode in the present please? Because the present is so neat! Watching a rain delay unfold in the clubhouse is neat! Hearing Ginny reference heatmaps is neat. Ginny has two families: her Padres family and her family back in North Carolina. The Padres family is way more interesting.
Jarrett: Two really cool guest stars pop up here too. The criminally underused Big Mike from Chuck (Mark Christopher Lawrence) has a really great scene as eccentric groundskeeper Russell, forced to deal with the incredibly rare rain delay in San Diego. And the wonderful Sarah Shahi shows up as Al Luongo’s daughter, who of course turns out to be dating Oscar. This show’s casting never ceases to own.
Meg: Russell and Natalie were nice pick ups, although I’m not sure how great an appetite I have for another ill-advised dalliance. But we have to talk about Kevin (Connolly). The show has a weird relationship with sabermetrics, seeming to embrace them at times and be suspicious of them at others, but Charlie’s monologue in the batting cage shows that they might misunderstand them pretty thoroughly. Sabermetrics are certainly a more rigorous, exacting way to understand baseball, make better informed baseball decisions, and try to predict which outcomes are the most likely, but I don’t know anyone, at least in 2016’s iteration of advanced stats who would say they successfully predict the future with the clarity he implied, or are a means of always successfully exercising control. Maybe we’re supposed to look on his character and marvel at his hubris, but it read like a scene from a different era’s baseball conversation.
Jarrett: This felt like something from the “Fire Joe Morgan” era of baseball discourse with the stat geek. Once upon a time, this really did describe some percentage of sabermetrics guys that were all too certain about things, but our internal culture really has shifted to embracing the uncertainty of it all. And also shifted towards shifts, but that’s another column. The idea that a Silicon Valley dude would go learn some sabermetrics and end up as a President of Baseball Operations that just knows he’s right without even interning for the Indians along the way is simply preposterous.
Next time: Will they or won’t they? (They totally will.) And should we start congratulating Mike on his World Series ring? Until then, have a great Thanksgiving!