The Fox series is wrapping up its first season, but perhaps you’ve heard this story before.
For the past several weeks, Fox’s new hit series “PITCH” has shown us that it is possible for a woman to continue smashing through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated world—bat, beauty, and brains in hand.
The series tells the story of Ginny (Kylie Bunbury), a woman with beauty, brains and athleticism, who is groomed by her now-deceased father to play Major League Baseball. During the first season, we have seen Ginny become not only the first female Major League Baseball player for the San Diego Padres, but the best, and this is all done in her father’s honor who’s mantra was, “We ain’t done nothing yet.”
For the past several weeks, “PITCH” has shed light on a variety of challenges that affect women everywhere, particularly women of color. These challenges include the ability to simultaneously balance being an athlete, a responsible feminist, and evolving brand. In fact, many would argue that women—namely Black women—are constantly forced to prove their worth and abilities in our society, and this ever-present theme is reflected in the first several episodes of “PITCH.”
Fortunately for the show’s main character, she has allies in the dugout who protect her honor by making her an exemplary player, regardless of the blatant undermining sexism. And, although “PITCH” presents an exciting concept in the world of fiction, Ginny’s rise to fame as a fictional character isn’t as far from reality as you may think. Let’s travel back and take a closer look at the untold story of Toni Stone.
Dirt in the Skirt
Toni Stone made history in 1953 when she became the first female player in Negro League baseball. Stone, who was born Marcenia Lyle Stone, also played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—although segregated—and several Negro League teams.
And, although she negotiated her pay and established how she wanted to be treated as a professional athlete, Stone’s notoriety has dissipated into American history. This is drastically different from the stories of some of her white counterparts as portrayed in the 1990’s blockbuster A League of Their Own. However, her legacy lives on in both fiction and non-fiction black, professional, female athletes by inspiring us all to say, “I am next.”
Outside of its brilliant soundtrack and incredible writing, “PITCH” embraces the spirit of women empowerment and the unsung legacy of Stone with a main character who calls the shots. Even though Ginny receives guidance from her agent she also takes charge of her own life.
Instead of allowing people to tell her how to play the game, she decides how she wants to play the game and she plays to win. However, like Stone, Ginny is quite literally a team player and heeds the advice of her teammates to be the best against all odds.
No Crying in Baseball
As the story progresses Ginny becomes more and more like “one of the guys” and a true member of the team, with all of the baseball politics in tow. Ginny is very aware of how uncomfortable the atmosphere is with the novelty and jealousy, but she takes it in stride.
Like the real-life Toni Stone, Ginny is steadfast in her strength and keeps playing the game when adversity strikes her or the team. It was not easy to get her onto the mound, but all season long, she has been knocking it out of the park and captivating audiences everywhere. Most have never heard the story of Toni Stone, but thanks to both fictional and non-fiction female athletes like Ginny, her unsung legacy lives on. We ain’t done nothin’ yet!
The “PITCH” season finale airs Thursday, December 8, at 9/8c.
Mo’ne Davis has reached national prominence on the baseball field this summer. While most boys pitch in the high 50s or low 60s, she throws at 70 mph. Her skills have helped her team, the Philadelphia Taney Dragons, go undefeated thus far in the World Series in Williamsport, PA. Although she is currently recognized as the best in the little league, Davis says she doesn’t really like when the media places all of its attention on her. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without my teammates,” she says. According to WSJ, when asked post-game by ESPN how she handles excessive media fascination, she said, “I can always say no.”
As one of two girls in the World Series this year, Davis dominates the score boards. On Friday night, she became the first female pitcher to throw a shutout (the act by which a single pitcher pitches a complete game and does not allow the opposing team to score a run) in the Little League post season, and struck out 8 batters on Sunday. Her stepfather says, “She was pitching one day and someone hit a home run off of her, so she felt she needed to work on it more. And from there, it got to this point.” (NPR)
ESPN interviewed parents about how they view girls in baseball and most parents found it empowering for girls to be seen as just as good as boys on the playing field. One skeptical father of a middle school girl said that girls can get hurt by playing with boys. Yolanda Washington, two seats down from him, disagreed and said if her daughter “had the skills,” she would support her in baseball. “I’m excited that as an African-American girl, (my daughter) sees another African-American girl doing something so unique and positive.
If Davis continues down this path, she could definitely wind up in the actual World Series, having been compared to Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Papelbon and Atlanta’s Ervin Santana. However, Davis plays other sports and has dreams of playing point guard at the University of Connecticut and of making it to the WNBA.
Regardless of the opinions of parents, and whatever she decides to play in the future, it is evident that Mo’ne is a role model for her generation and other little girls that might want to pursue a career in a sport that is normally considered a “male” sport.
An 11-year-old gymnast and Phillies fan who traveled from New Jersey to Philadelphia with her father to watch Davis play says she doesn’t seem stuck up, but just a girl with great confidence. “Mo’ne would be my role model if I was on a baseball team. She would be my role model even in general.” (ESPNW)
On All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, religious leaders from multiple denominations gathered in a sugar cane field in St. James Parish where evidence suggests enslaved African Americans were buried. In 2018, archaeological consultants for Formosa, a company that plans to build a giant plastics manufacturing facility on the site, discovered unmarked gravesites.
Bishop Michael Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said he attended the ceremony to bless the graves — as is tradition the day after All Saints’ — and to make residents who have protested the proposed plant feel heard. “Caring for the earth is about caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said. “You’re not just building on so many acres of sugarcane. This is their home.”
Duca was among the clergy invited to the ceremony by Sharon Lavigne, a St. James Parish resident who created the grassroots organization Rise St. James in an effort to stop Formosa from building near her house. Lavigne said it was important for religious leaders to see what is happening in her community. “I’m hoping that they can pray with us and help us to solve this problem,” Lavigne said. “That’s what I asked them to do when we were at the gravesite. I asked them to join forces with us.”
Clergy have played a strategic role in bringing conviction and community to environmental justice causes since the movement began in the 1980s, informing people about the disproportionate effects pollution has on communities of color and rural areas. This year in Louisiana, places of worship have served as physical and theoretical places for people of diverse backgrounds to meet and strategize to achieve two recent environmental victories.
On November 13, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permit for the proposed plastics plant while the Corps re-evaluates certain aspects of the permit. Residents and environmentalists challenged the Clean Water Act permit on several counts, including the Corps’ failure to protect the burial sites. While the origins of the gravesites have not been verified, archaeologists found evidence that they may be the graves of enslaved African Americans who labored on the Buena Vista Plantation, built in the mid-1800s. Formosa has said it will work with Louisiana to identify the remains and respectfully rebury them in a cemetery.
“[Formosa] is disappointed with the Corps’ decision to temporarily suspend the permit during its re-evaluation,” said Janile Parks, the company’s spokesperson. “[Formosa] expects and sincerely hopes the Corps will handle this matter in an objective, impartial, and expeditious manner so the permit analysis will be even stronger once the re-evaluation of the analysis is complete.”
Major construction for the plastic plant was put on hold until February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The permit suspension means the company cannot clear, grade, or excavate near the Mississippi River levee until the Corps has made its decision to reinstate, revoke, or modify Formosa’s permit. In a court filing, the Corps said it is re-evaluating the company’s consideration of other locations to build the plant, and previously eliminated five alternate sites in Ascension Parish based on false information.
Pastor Harry Joseph, of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James Parish, attended parish council meetings to question the permits after one of his parishioners was diagnosed with cancer. “My people were suffering from this,” he said. “So, I needed to get more involved.”
Joseph is a member of Rise St. James, a faith-based organization that advocates for racial, social, and environmental justice. He said that the Corps’ decision to suspend Formosa’s permit was the group’s biggest victory so far. “Hopefully that will stop Formosa from wanting to build here,” he said. He plans to continue to fight for the health of his community. A ProPublica analysis found that the facility would double the level of cancer-causing air pollutants in the area. “As leaders, if we can’t walk out and get in good trouble we got the wrong calling,” he said.
Churches — particularly Black churches — have played a role in the environmental justice movement since its inception, said Robert Bullard, a Texas Southern University professor who is often called the “father of environmental justice.”
“I’ve been doing this for 40-plus years and I’ve seen people who are sustained by their faith,” he said.
Faith leaders help make the connection for parishioners between good stewardship of the earth and spirituality, he said. Pastors build community and create a meeting space. “The pastor is the shepherd of the flock and that person is the watchful person who is keeping a good eye out for any dangers,” Bullard said.
Environmental racism affects public health, housing and food security, said Rev. Emily Carroll, of Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Mansfield. Working toward environmental justice, or the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, is a way to empower people, she said. Environmentalism has been a part of Carroll’s ministry since she studied in seminary.
She spoke out against an amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot that would have amounted to a massive tax break for manufacturers, allowing companies to negotiate lower tax bills with local governments. Carroll said she was concerned it would take much needed resources away from her community. “We should be pushing and preaching what we should do to make life better for our parishioners,” she said.
Together Louisiana, an interfaith network of over 250 religious and community groups, was instrumental in defeating Amendment 5. Over the past four years, the group has emerged as a vocal critic of Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) — a state program that offers tax breaks and exemptions for manufacturing facilities — deeming it “corporate welfare.”
The coalition’s strategy hinged upon robust public education campaigns. Shawn Anglim, pastor of First Grace United Methodist Church in New Orleans and longtime member of Together Louisiana, said the group informed local municipalities and residents about the massive tax breaks for industry at the expense of communities. According to a 2018 analysis by Together Louisiana, many coastal, industry-heavy parishes lost millions of dollars in tax revenue because of the exemption; for instance, Cameron Parish lost $618 million that year.
“We educated, basically, going from City Councils, to Sheriffs, to school boards to teachers unions, helping them understand that their money has been given away for decades,” Anglim said.
When state legislators approved Amendment 5 in June, Together Louisiana organizers saw yet another chapter in a long story of industry lobbyists and sympathetic lawmakers attempting to cheat communities out of local tax dollars. “It enables the people who are doing the polluting to get a tax break,” said retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, once the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina and now an environmental advocate involved with Together Louisiana. The group worried the amendment would cut funding for public schools and shift the tax burden onto residents.
They mobilized quickly. Together Louisiana already had a system in place to boost voter turnout this election cycle: A statewide network of block captains periodically checked in with neighbors to make sure each had a voting plan. Block captains began informing voters about what the confusing language of Amendment 5 actually meant — and what the stakes were for their communities.
Carroll, who served as a block captain, said the language was purposefully confusing. “That amendment was like three lines with no commas, semicolons. It was a huge, long sentence,” she said. “I feel like it was convoluted intentionally.”
Rev. Jay Angerer of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in River Ridge was looking for ways to fight for environmental justice and first plugged into the Amendment 5 campaign through a virtual meeting. “I probably wouldn’t have been involved in Together Louisiana if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and Zoom,” he said. Stunned at the prospect that companies could negotiate their taxes, he attended meetings and helped people practice their elevator pitches about the amendment, challenging them to speak to five, 15, or 50 people about it.
Angerer took his pitch to his congregation. Whenever they had a Bible study or adult education class, he spent a minute or two telling church members about the amendment. “The Bible speaks frequently about issues of justice, in the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Angerer said. “People who are in power, and the church, are tasked with the responsibility of making sure that the orphans, the widows and the strangers of society, the outcasts, [and] the marginalized are protected.”
These efforts paid off. By an overwhelming margin, every parish in the state — even those that are typically GOP strongholds — voted it down. There was a significant discrepancy between how legislators and their constituents voted: 114 state lawmakers voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot, with only 20 voting against (10 were absent for the initial vote). But all 144 districts rejected it in November.
Anglim, from First Grace, was buoyed by the success. “This was overcome by a bunch of church people!” he said. “The number one comment from those precinct captains was ‘what’s next?’ These people had a very powerful experience. They helped people vote, they helped inform people, and they had a strategy for using their power for the common good. That worked.”
Anglim and Honoré both said they expect state legislators to try to pass legislation similar to Amendment 5 in the coming year, and will rally against it. Angerer, from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, is also inspired to keep up the work.
“My church is eleven feet from the Mississippi River,” he said. North of River Ridge, Black and brown communities live closest to petrochemical facilities on what was once plantation land. “We are a couple miles south of Cancer Alley, and the water flows towards us. I’d have my head in the sand if I didn’t think that eventually our part of the river is going to also become part of Cancer Alley.”
Borrowing from the book of Joshua, Angerer said, “Someone needs to blow the horn, you know?”
Carly Berlin is Southerly’s Gulf Coast Correspondent. Sara Sneath is an environmental reporter based in New Orleans.
This story was supported by the Turner Center at Martin Methodist College.