St.Petersburg, Florida: Till this time last year, Rinku Singh had never picked up a baseball. Neither had Dinesh Patel. The teens, living in a poor farming community in India, were just a month away from joining the army.
But in a twist worthy of a made-for-television movie, the two javelin throwers triumphed over 30,000 others in the Million Dollar Arm contest to win six months in the US, training to become professional pitchers.
Last month, Singh, 20, and Patel, 19, became the first Indians to sign professional baseball contracts when the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired them. They will report to Bradenton, Florida, in February to prepare for spring training and hope to participate in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Even if Singh and Patel never reach the majors, they could pave the way for many more in their country of one billion to play catch instead of cricket.
To prevent injury, Singh and Patel didn’t play catch for the first four weeks, instead focusing on conditioning, building arm strength. They absorbed pitching mechanics such as they engulfed their new favourite foods (Singh, banana pancakes; Patel, pizza).
From learning to throw a curve to taking the elevator or using a paper dispenser, everything was novel. They picked up English by watching Baseball Tonight and taking online courses.
Patel, who takes turns with Singh maintaining a blog, was fascinated with Halloween. “Some have crazy costumes,” he wrote.
Today, the contest winners are grocery shopping on their own. Said sports agent J.B. Bernstein: “They’re very self-sufficient.”
And they’ve held their own on the mound, throwing in the high 80s to low 90s and throwing fastballs, curves and changeups while playing simulated games against high school and junior college hitters. They know the rules but still need to learn the nuances of pitching, such as how to change speeds.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington called them “intriguing” after their signing on 24 November. It’s part of a move to get into some non-traditional markets. The first thing Singh and Patel did was go online to locate Pittsburgh.
“It is in northeast part of USA and looks like very good city,” they wrote.
It wasn’t until four days later, when a package arrived with Pirates jerseys, jackets and DVDs, that they learn about Clemente’s legendary path.
©2008/The St Petersburg Times