You’d be forgiven for a moment if you didn’t realise Mark-Paul Gosselaar is in ‘PITCH’.
Bearded and bulked up, Gosselaar is utterly unrecognisable from his ‘Saved by the Bell’ days. In case you need a reminder (we perhaps all do), Gosselaar plays the captain and the catcher Mike Lawson of the San Diego Padres, the team Ginny Baker joins. Whilst Kylie Bunbury, as Ginny, blatantly takes the limelight, it’s Gosselaar who quietly, steadily puts in an admirably strong performance as the slightly weary catcher. He’s beefy, he’s got a bit of swagger but mostly he’s nervous.
You wouldn’t think so. Lawson, in all his muscular, big form—nervous? But he is. He can’t be a catcher forever; he can’t play baseball forever. The San Diego Padres is all he’s going to have left, and it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to bequeath it at a time when a woman joins the team as their pitcher. What Gosselaar is effective at doing is playing that hesitancy to a tee. If baseball is Lawson’s life, then he’s not going to leave it in Ginny’s hands willy-nilly. This is his legacy, and Gosselaar—almost unrecognisable with that big scruffy beard and equally big build—is not going to leave it to anyone he can’t approve of.
It’s that slight caution, that uncertainty that Gosselaar subtly portrays so well. Bunbury seizes the limelight as she should, but Gosselaar quietly levels her with his wary performance. And it’s a job well done because it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
Bunbury and Gosselaar have chemistry by the truck-load.
In any article regarding ‘PITCH’, it’s difficult to not mention Kylie Bunbury. But this time, it’s in regards to the undeniable chemistry she and Gosselaar hold. There’s slight tension at first until he reluctantly admits that Ginny may be something special. As mentioned before, the San Diego Padres is his legacy. As mentioned before, he’s ageing, he’s weary, and at some point, he’ll have to pass on his pearls of wisdom to someone else. Why can’t that someone be Ginny?
And it is. Somewhat half-heartedly at first, Lawson takes Ginny under his wing. Together they form what’s probably going to be a formidable partnership. Lawson’s the mentor and Ginny’s his mentee. Already she is showing promise; Lawson’s there to fine-tune that. Quite quickly, a mentee/mentor relationship blossoms between the duo. There’s enough between them to suspect something more, but honestly, the relationship they have now is something that could be developed platonically, and still be convincing.
‘PITCH’ is not a story that needs a romance except for Ginny’s love for the game. Perhaps it will head down that route. Gosselaar and Bunbury are just that good together. But for Ginny’s sake, and definitely for Lawson’s sake, it really isn’t needed. What is needed is for Lawson to get his world series. Gosselaar holds himself with striking self-belief, but the urge to complete his legacy is obvious. As a viewer, at this point, it’s far more desirable to see Lawson achieve that than to embark on a romance with the female lead. It wouldn’t be unconvincing, but Gosselaar’s Lawson is so much more than that—and so is Ginny.
Mike Lawson is every inch the captain the San Diego Padres needs.
He’s patient with newcomer Ginny. He even delivers one of the speeches of the pilot. As captain—indeed, as a sportsman—he is confident, and perhaps slightly arrogant too. He has every right to be; he’s really good. This isn’t just about training Ginny up because he wants her to be great; this is about winning the world series he’s missing. Lawson isn’t getting any younger, and the world series isn’t going to wait patiently for him. He’s got to seize it, and his time is running out.
What Gosselaar does so exquisitely is balance that overwhelming desire with his steady, often inspirational coaching, as well as keep focused during the games. Lawson is a man on a mission and he will not let anybody veer him off course. Gosselaar does an admirable job of portraying such dedication.
Gosselaar’s Lawson is not only convincing as a captain, but he’s also convincing as a sportsman.
You may think the two are the same, but they most definitively are not. Truthfully, it’s Ginny’s dad (the excellent Michael Beach) she aims to please at the end of the game—but he’s not exactly soft. Instead, it is Lawson’s reluctant approval that Ginny gets.
This is exactly where Gosselaar shines. During the episode, it ever so slowly dawns on Lawson that Ginny is more talented than he’d initially thought. The beauty of Gosselaar’s performance is that you can see the realisation creep up on him until he’s convinced that indeed if Ginny is the future of his team, if Ginny is going to be part of his legacy—he’s okay with that.
It’s actually beautiful to witness. So often, the showiest performances are not the best. In this case, Bunbury’s Ginny is truly exceptional—she is a revelation. However, that doesn’t mean anybody else shines just as bright as her. Gosselaar simply shines a different shade; a different colour. Most impressive is the scene in which Lawson starts to take the mickey out of long-winded motivational speeches during half-time. He teases relentlessly until he realises he’s doing just that: giving a long-winded motivational speech. It’s humorous, and it’s also kind of heart-warming too.
Gosselaar could’ve taken this character and dismantled him into something of a hard-nut captain. Lawson could’ve been That Unpleasant Rival—but he’s not. In just one episode he is banding together with Ginny, and they are a team. A unit. And isn’t that what baseball is all about? Gosselaar (and of course Bunbury) gives the show tremendous heart, and it’s an absolute honour to watch.