If "Pitch" is easily the most critically praised new network drama of the fall season, much of the credit can go to the curveballs propelled by Kylie Bunbury, the fresh new face on the pitcher's mound.

The 27-year-old actress is the show's clear MVP, bringing the series' cutting edge, still-fictional-for-the-moment premise so vividly to life: as San Diego Padres pitcher Ginny Baker -- the first woman allowed to play in Major League Baseball -- Bunbury deftly balances the grit and determination it takes to break the gender barrier as well as the vulnerability and insecurity such a distinction would expose, all with an utterly believable athleticism (it runs in the family: both her father and one of her brothers have played professional soccer in Canada).

That blend of exhilaration and trepidation carries over into Bunbury's own life: she knows all eyes are on her as she headlines her first major TV series, and as she revealed during her first visit to the Television Critics Association's fall press tour, just like Ginny she's counting on preparation, talent and grace under pressure to carry her through.

In what way do you relate to the pressures on Ginny?

Kylie Bunbury: It's interesting. There's a lot of parallels going on right now. But my focus is just on being a good actress and being the best person I can be. So I'm really trying not to get caught up in all this other stuff. It's very different.

I do feel like I have a responsibility to empower women and to inspire them. And not just women, just anyone who has a dream. To tell them, you don't need to forgo your dreams. You can achieve them, and you can be any size, shape, color, gender, creed, whatever it is, you can do it. And I'm just really proud of this show. It has a lot of heart.

I think pressure is good. And just watching my brother and my dad be professional athletes, I think, pressure has driven them. And has caused them to excel more. I'm trying not to focus on the spectacle of being the first woman in baseball -- and I think Ginny would do the same. I really just want to be a baseball player and be the best ball player I can be.

And while it is an incredible [honor] -- I'm trying not to focus on the spectacle of being the first woman. I'm really just focusing on being the best ball player I can be. And being one of the guys.

What are some of the disciplines that you've learned from your brother and father?

Oh, my gosh -- what's interesting is, when I first started acting, it was purely based off of instinct. I hadn't taken any acting classes. And I talked to my brother on the phone one day, and he said, "Kylie, when I became pro, I didn't stop training. I trained every day." And that really stuck with me. So I said, "Okay. I need a foundation." And once I had that foundation, I needed to keep building upon that.

So I'm working hard every day, and that sometimes means missing out on social events. I mean, I just have such a higher respect for my brother and athletes. The amount of work and determination and mental strength that you have to have is just incredible.

What did you get really good at?

My fastball, I'm pretty proud of my fastball. I can throw a screwball. It's not as accurate, and I don't have the velocity like I do with my fast ball. But I think my fastball, it's not too shabby!

What's so funny is we have not clocked it yet. But Greg Olson is the pitcher that I'm working with. He's a former pitcher who used to play for the Dodgers, actually, and he said I probably run 55 [mph]. So I'm not as fast as Ginny by any means, but I've only had a few months to learn. So I'm pretty proud of the 55.

How did you combine the athletics with the acting side of your job.

It really lends itself because I'm completely being submerged in this world, so it's sort of all the scenes, they work together nicely. It is difficult. I mean, I've been now in acting class for about three years, so I do have that stuff down. And I do have the emotional side of things down. My focus is to be as authentic as possible in baseball. And that has been probably the most challenging thing.

What was your level of interest in sports prior to "Pitch"?

Before this, I never was a huge baseball or softball fan at all. Soccer was always number one. And I have completely fallen in love with this sport. It's such a mental game. I never realized it before ... I was just messaging some of my friends who used to play softball and say, "Wow. I have such a huge respect for you." I mean, it's incredible. I never even noticed it before.

Are there female athletes that you look at and say, "That's what she's like"? There are some parallels to Serena Williams.

I was going to say Serena. I mean, her story's incredible. Definitely Serena. And the cool thing I've been learning about Serena because I've been watching a lot of athletes, is she is intense and very serious when it comes to her work, but off, when she's not working, she's goofy. She's silly. She's herself. And I think that's very important, to have a balance.

What's your impression about what Mo'ne Davis was able to achieve?

My goodness -- it's so funny that a lot of people are asking, "Oh, is this a story about Mo'ne Davis?" It's not, but I think that she's definitely opened the door up a little wider for us to have this story. She's incredible. I hope to some day meet her. I'm trying to get her on the show actually. I'm going to see if I can finagle that, maybe!

Are you prepared to have a couple dozen invitations to throw a pitch out at Major League games?

My heart just pitter-pattered! I am so nervous to throw out the first pitch. Because that's all mental at that point. I know I can throw over the mound, but all these people are here saying, "Okay, she's in a show about baseball. She better be able to throw this first pitch!" And what if I don't do it? I'm going to have to do it.

What can you say about some of the upcoming episodes?

In the second episode, we're playing the Dodgers, and it's really about me dealing with everything that's going on. And then the third episode is me pitching -- and it's a beanball episode where, basically, there's a rule in baseball where if one of the pitchers hits one of your players, you as the pitcher are supposed to be involved, the pitcher. But now, I'm a girl, so this raises the subject of if I beanball someone, which I do, will the pitcher beanball me back?

Also, the show's very current. We're talking about very current events, so there is a case where a young guy has raped a young woman, and it's something that people want Ginny Baker to discuss. I'm a woman in a man's world. What does she say about this? So it's a very current show which I think is really great. When you look back, the shows from different decades, you're like, "Wow -- that was so of that time." And that's what this show is as well. It's very of this time.

Does she speak out?

Yes, she does. She finally comes into her own a little bit because she's being told what not to say, what to say. And so she's kind of scrambling to figure out, "Okay, so what do I do?" And she's figuring out who she is, which is exactly what I'm going through right now as well. I'm still figuring out who I am and trying to tackle this thing called life. [Laughs] Did I just quote Prince a little bit?

"Pitch" premieres tonight (September 22nd) on FOX.