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Game changer: Kylie Bunbury could affect future of baseball with 'Pitch'

Game changer: Kylie Bunbury could affect future of baseball with 'Pitch'


LOS ANGELES | Kylie Bunbury says her body aches from all the training she’s doing for the new Fox series, “Pitch,” but it’s worth it.

“I’m just trying to be a ball player…the best ball player I can be,” the Minnesotan says. “I’m trying not to focus on the spectacle of being the first woman in baseball.”

The show’s premise -- Bunbury’s character Ginny Baker breaks the gender barrier and is hired to pitch for the San Diego Padres – has the potential to spark interest among girls who could actually be on a major league team.

“I think this is going to happen in my lifetime,” says Dan Fogelman, creator and executive producer of the series. “The thing we always found most interesting about the show is when it happens that woman will become the biggest story in the country overnight. The amount of attention and eyeballs on her is really interesting drama. I think it can happen in multiple sports.”

Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Bunbury, who hails from Prior Lake, Minnesota, has to make it look like it’s possible.

Initially, she was just worried about throwing the ball. Now, she says with a smile, “I’m probably around 55 mph. I’m not as fast as Ginny, by any means, but I’m pretty proud of the 55.”

Her pitching coach, Gregg Olson, a Nebraskan who currently works with the Padres, has been perfecting her style and helping her craft a screwball that will look good on camera. Two-and-a-half months of work could make a lifetime of difference in some viewer’s life – if Bunbury is believable.

“There are a lot of parallels going on now,” she says. “I do feel I have a responsibility to empower women and to inspire them. And not just women – anyone who has a dream. To tell them: You don’t need to forego your dreams. You can achieve them and be any size, shape, color gender, creed, whatever it is, you can do it.”

The daughter and sister of professional soccer players, Bunbury called brother Teal (who’s with the New England Revolution) and picked his brain about the life. “He said, ‘When I became pro, I didn’t stop training. I trained every day.’ And that stuck with me. I realized I needed a foundation and then I had to keep building on that.”

Working on that fast ball, honing her acting skills became paramount. “That sometimes means missing out on social events but I have such high respect for my brother and athletes I don’t want to get this wrong. The amount of work and determination and mental strength you have to have is incredible.”

After she got the job, Bunbury started messaging high school friends who used to play softball. “I had to tell them I had such respect for them. I never noticed it before.”

She also started looking at potential role models for Ginny. (Her number is 43, one away from Jackie Robinson’s, “which is so cool.”) Serena Williams, she says, is definitely on the list. “The cool thing about Serena is she’s intense and very serious when it comes to her work. But when she’s not working, she’s goofy, she’s silly, she’s herself. I think it’s very important to have balance.”

Starting with a one-episode role in “Days of Our Lives,” Bunbury began crafting a career. She went on to appear in “Prom” and “The Sitter” before scoring a regular role in “Under the Dome.”

Acting then, she says, “was purely based off instinct.” Now, she knows it requires much more.

“I’m completely being submerged in this world,” she says. “I’ve been in acting class for three years now and I do have the emotional side of things down. My focus is to be as authentic as possible in baseball. That has been the most challenging thing.”

Working at the Padres stadium, Bunbury says she gets a sense of how complex the game is and what it takes to make it on that level.

She’s good with the players, too, largely because she grew up with brothers. “I grew up as a tomboy who wore dresses,” Bunbury says. “I can give it back just as much as they can.”

Now, as the series starts to get attention (it’s part of Fox’s fall lineup), TV’s first female pitcher is beginning to sense how big it can be.

“I’ve been such a hermit working on my stuff,” she says with a smile. “But we’re all attracted to sports. We all love a story about people succeeding and winning. And that’s what this is.”


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