When Fox premieres its new prime-time series -- "Pitch" -- on Thursday night (9-10 p.m.), you won't see former Orioles closer Gregg Olson on the screen, but he played a significant role in developing the fictional first female big league baseball player.
Olson, who is the Orioles' all-time save leader with 160 and was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2008, helped actress Kylie Bunbury learn proper pitching mechanics to add realism to the role of Ginny Baker, who will be called up to the big leagues by the San Diego Padres in the first episode.
He was hired as a technical consultant for the entire first season of the show, charged with making sure whatever happens on the field or in the fictional Padres clubhouse is portrayed accurately.
“When we’re doing field stuff or doing baseball stuff, I’m down there and they’re running scenarios by me and asking me what’s legit and what’s not," said Olson, who pitched for the Orioles from 1988 to 1993 and was one of the top closers in baseball. "Right now, I’m working about three days a week with Kylie on pitching.”
The show will focus on both the road that female pitcher Ginny Baker took to the major leagues and the reaction to her arrival from family members, teammates and a predictably manic national media.
It will be interesting to see how the show deals with the issues that have faced other barrier-breakers in the professional sports world as well as the more specific issues related to race and gender that would confront an African-American woman breaking into an all-male sport.
“I think a lot of it is just, ‘What would this look like,’" Olson said. "Is there racism? There's going to be some sexism. What's that look like?' That’s a hard thing to project, what it would look like. I was kind of like, ‘I assume this will be Jackie Robinson, breaking a huge barrier and all the things he goes through.' This would be the same kind of thing. Baseball is an old boy’s club and ‘We don’t really want you here’ and ‘Why are you here?’ So I think that’s part of what she’s got to deal with.”
Of course, in real life, Bunbury not only had to deal with creating the character, she had to learn the finer points of a sport she had never played. But Olson said she didn't come unprepared.
“She had worked with somebody prior to me getting hired and literally I walked on set and they were starting to shoot," he said. "She had already put in some work getting down the mechanics and they were pretty good. I didn’t have to do a whole lot. I cleaned a couple things up and gave here a couple things to think about while she’s throwing.”
Olson has seen the finished product twice and says viewers will not have to be big baseball fans to get into it.
“It’s got some baseball, but it’s a pretty good drama about what happens behind the lights," Olson said. "It’s a drama about what’s behind the scenes in baseball … a little bit of the clubhouse look. The first episode is about how she got to where she’s at, and the behind-the-scenes life of a baseball player … and a little bit of the front-office stuff.”
The pilot that airs Thursday was shot during spring training earlier this year. The 14-episode series is currently in production and Olson said that filming will stretch into November.
“I’m a [regular] consultant and hoping to get a scene in one of the shows as a Padres coach," he said. "I’ll be in the dugout coaching, helping, but not acting.”
No doubt, the 20th Century Fox Television production will be cross-marketed by Fox and Fix Sports with the upcoming Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series.