The Morning File: The American Dream lives on -- Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel are new Pirates
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"Monday our greatest dream is coming to us. We both get contract to play pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We are so happy and excited it is unreal. ... We right away went to the internet to locate Pittsburgh on map. It is in north east part of USA and looks like very good city."
Those words, fractured in the manner you would expect from Asian Indians who only learned English this year by watching ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," come from Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. On Nov. 24, they became members of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the first athletes from their country to sign U.S. sports contracts.
If you check out their earnest blog at themilliondollararm.com, you just might fall in love with them.
"We are very proud to be putting on our first Pirate uniform. ... When we put on jersey it was first time since we win contract that this journey not feel like dream, it feel like I wake best dream, find it to be true." -- from Mr. Singh's blog, Nov. 28
They never even played catch before this year, but used their experiences throwing the javelin to do well in a contest called "The Million Dollar Arm," created to see if a potential major league baseball pitcher might be hidden among India's millions of cricket players. The contest was also a reality TV series in India.
The two hurlers have become media stars without ever playing in an official baseball game. They have been profiled on CNN and in The New York Times and USA Today. There is talk of TV and movie deals to tell their story.
The two grew up in villages in which people commonly live in dirt huts, with tarps for roofs. Traffic gridlock develops from cows in the road. Their Indian homes have electricity but rely on well water. Turning on a water fountain upon arriving in the United States, they tried to catch the water with their hands.
Mr. Singh, one of nine siblings living in his parents' one-room home, won $100,000 for finishing first in "The Million Dollar Arm." Runner-up Patel was invited to join him, receiving six months of training in Los Angeles from the University of Southern California's pitching coach. When they saw their first baseball game, they innocently asked what the shortstop had done wrong, since every other infielder but him had his own base.
"Depend when Pittsburgh Pirates want us to spring training, we maybe have a chance to go home our villages. We miss our families, but nothing must come before building our pitching skills. We realize many young boy in India now watch and cheer for us. We want to work hard all the time to make sure we make our country proud." -- from Mr. Patel's blog, Nov. 26
The pair tried out for dozens of major league scouts last month, with the Pirates the first to offer them contracts in the $10,000 range. Mr. Singh is a lanky southpaw. Mr. Patel, an average-sized righty, threw harder in tryouts, hitting 90 mph. Both are younger than 21 and raw, comparable to good high school pitchers.
Chances are slim either will ever pitch in Pittsburgh, just as with almost any draftee out of high school or college. But it's the right city for them, if they somehow succeed.
Most Southern and Eastern cities offer a big fan base for Latino ballplayers, and West Coast cities for Japanese or Koreans. Pittsburgh has a paltry number of those immigrants by comparison, but with all of the UPMC/AGH doctors, Pitt/CMU engineers and technology entrepreneurs of Indian extraction, Mr. Singh or Mr. Patel could attract huge followings from the day they arrive.
"It is really amazing how important sports are in the United States. They have so many sports leagues and all the athletes are as famous as Bollywood stars. Sports professionals are truly some of the biggest celebrities in all of the America and we hope to some day also be part of this." -- from Mr. Patel's blog, Oct. 14
Casey Daigle, a former No. 1 pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks who has helped train the pair, is among their biggest fans.
"It's fun because they're like sponges. A few months ago, they didn't even know what a baseball was," he told USA Today. "What's great about them is that they are so determined to pitch in pro ball, and when you're around them, you can't help but root for them."
If not for the baseball contest, they were prepared to enter India's armed forces. Their contract signings came just two days before the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian metropolis where the "Million Dollar Arm" finals were held this year. It was a stark reminder that, in the end, the fantasy they are trying to fulfill is just a game.
From their Nov. 26 blog:
"Thanks to God that our families are very far from where the killings are, but still as Indian men we feel very bad. If not for contest we would be in India, and maybe in army right now fighting terrorist in Mumbai. Please join us in praying for this situation to end now and for peace to return to Mumbai streets."
First Published December 8, 2008 10:44 am