Sunday, March 15, 2009

From Throwing a Javelin to Throwing a Baseball: Two Guys From India Living the American Dream

I love this time of year. Spring is right around the corner. The weather is starting to warm. In the Midwest, we can actually venture outdoors again, take a walk in the sun, maybe even go without a coat. It's also the time for baseball to begin. Major league teams are huddling in Arizona and California and all across this great land, tens of thousands of mostly adult males are preparing for their fantasy baseball drafts.

Being one of those thousands, I came across this great article from CNNSI about two young javelin throwers from India trying to make it in professional baseball as pitchers--a first if it happens. Up until a year ago, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel had never played baseball or picked one up. According to the story:

"They were both training to be javelin throwers at a state-run institute in Uttar Pradesh for promising young athletes. Their game plan was simple enough: to win enough medals at national meets to draw the interest of recruiters from the Indian army. That would lead to a career in uniform, starting at the same relative economic level as a U.S. Army GI. That would bring job security -- or at least as much security as can be expected from a job that includes tours in insurgency-wracked Kashmir, where India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947. 'If we were in India now,' says Singh, holding his hands up as if wielding a machine gun, curling his left forefinger around an imaginary trigger, 'we'd be fighting terrorists.' (Two of his three older brothers are in the armed services.) Last winter, however, a javelin coach told them about a reality TV show in which the winner could earn big bucks by throwing a ball, hard. With their powerful shoulders, the coach reasoned, Singh and Patel might have a chance. 'We didn't know it had anything to do with baseball or America or anything like that,' says Patel. 'We agreed to compete because of the money.' The Million Dollar Arm was the brainchild of J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent based in Northern California who figured that, by the law of averages, a nation of 1.1 billion people -- most of them nuts about cricket -- must have plenty of young men capable of throwing 90 mph. More than 30,000 Indians signed up to compete across 30 cities. After three rounds of competition, Singh was declared the winner last March, with a top speed of 89 mph. That earned him $100,000 (a king's ransom in his hometown of Bhadohi), a Gatorade shower ('I thought, Why are they pouring juice over me?') and a shot at another $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes at 90 mph. (He could not.) Patel, who came in second with an 87-mph pitch, received $2,500, and both entrants earned a trip to L.A., where they would live and train on the USC campus for the next six months before auditioning for major league scouts."

The story gets better. The two moved to the United States where for months they trained with USC Pitching Coach Tom House, who was skeptical anything would come of this. In November of 2008, the unthinkable happened--Singh and Patel impressed a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates enough that the team signed them to minor league deals.

Anyone who has played the game of baseball knows how truly difficult the game is. The fact that these two guys have accomplished what they have in just a few months is truly amazing. Baseball needs these kinds of inspirational stories with news seemingly breaking everyday about steroids infesting the game over the last two decades and the biggest stars being among the biggest culprits. I know that I will be rooting to see these guys on a major league mound sometime in the future.

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