The winners of “The Million Dollar Arm” contest, Rinku Singh (left) and Dinesh Kumar Patel, pose for photographs.
Two budding pitchers from Uttar Pradesh are the first Indian-born athletes signed by a major U.S. professional sports team. Amazingly, until a year ago, neither player had even heard of baseball.
Now, after winning a televised contest called The Million Dollar Arm in March 2008 where 30,000 Indian youth competed to see who could throw the most strikes at a speed faster then 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour), Rinku Singh, 20, and Dinesh Kumar Patel, 19, have been signed to play for one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eight minor league teams.
The two men hail from towns in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. They attended a sports academy in Lucknow, India, where they focused on javelin throwing. Although the contest Web site suggested cricket players might be most qualified to win the contest, the two players’ javelin-throwing skills may have helped them attain the pitching speed and accuracy needed to win.
After moving to the United States in May 2008, Singh and Patel began to learn English by watching a television show about baseball.
They will be training in Bradenton, Florida, and will be assigned to a Pirates-affiliated minor league team in early 2009. Professional baseball teams in the U.S. are affiliated with minor league teams in smaller towns where players learn the intricacies of the game and are given the chance to move up and make it to one of the 30 major league teams.
Now it’s India’s turn. J.B. Bernstein, managing director of The Million Dollar Arm, described the contest as an Indian, baseball version of American Idol, the popular U.S. television show where contestants compete to be the next new music star. The official U.S. Major League Baseball Web site, MLB.com, reported that 500,000 to 1 million participants are expected to compete in the second season of The Million Dollar Arm.
Singh and Patel have raw talent, and according to Pirates representative Jim Trdinich, the two players are likely to spend the next few years in the minor leagues honing their skills. While about 30 percent of Major League Baseball players are not from the United States, virtually all of the foreign-born players come from places with established baseball traditions, such as the Dominican Republic. The entry by Singh and Patel into a sport new to them — and relatively new to India — makes their journey into the world of U.S. baseball one of a kind.