By Sweeny Murti
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A movie about Indians in baseball, and not the ones in Cleveland? Yes, I am very much looking forward to seeing Million Dollar Arm.
In the fall of 2008 I recall reading about this contest in India where the basic idea was to find anybody that could throw a baseball 90 miles per hour. And I wondered to myself just how far people were willing to go to find pitching.
I asked a few scouts, men whose job it is to scour the country and then some looking for talent. I asked if I was crazy to wonder why no one had ever really thought to check in on a country with more than a billion people where they played a game — cricket — that looked a little something like baseball.
I was assured that I was not crazy, and in fact Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees Vice President of Amateur Scouting, told me that several years earlier he saw a West Indies cricket team on a field adjacent to a game he was covering. Oppenheimer said that after watching the cricketers play for a short while he called his boss to say, “I think I’m here watching the wrong team. I just saw about eight guys that look like Devon White.”
Athletic is athletic, but baseball is not just about being athletic. Ask Michael Jordan if you don’t believe me. The cricket players in India and around the world are athletic, but getting their skills to translate to baseball takes a little more effort. Part of that, I was told by several scouts, is getting them to play baseball at a younger age and with the proper coaching and instruction. It’s possible, yes, but by no means a cheap or easy thing to do.
So a few weeks later, the Pittsburgh Pirates made Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel — winners of the Million Dollar Arm contest — the first Indian-born players signed to play professional baseball in the U.S. It was entirely symbolic, of course. I mean, what were the odds that they picked two major leaguers out of a billion first time out of the chute?
But the symbolism was enough. The Pirates opened the door. It might take years or decades to cultivate the baseball talent there, but the dream is alive now. Ken Rosenthal did an excellent job in articulating that here.
If Singh, a 25-year-old lefty currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, manages to throw even a single big league pitch he will become a symbol of hope, as Rosenthal points out. Singh could be the one to get young kids in India wanting to play baseball instead of cricket.
It is a longshot, no doubt. Nothing about baseball is natural to the Indian youths because they don’t grow up watching and playing it. But the dreams are alive. The odds tell you that a population that big has to have somebody capable of playing major league baseball. They just need someone to make the dream look attainable.
Million Dollar Arm is not the story of an Indian pitcher making the major leagues. But the good news is door is now open for a sequel.
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