Desis In Odd Places IV

During the past year or so, the story of Rinku and Dinesh have been doing the rounds on the sports, news and talk show circuits. In brief, they are winners of a reality show ("The Million Dollar Arm") held in India to find some top class baseball prospects. That anyone would look for pitching talent in India where it has been customary for generations of cricket fans to bemoan the lack of genuine fast bowlers (something only changing now with the advent of Ishant Sharma) is amazing and easily attributed to a marketing gimmick designed to sell sneakers to India's middle class consumers. That the winners of said gimmick would actually sign with a Major League Baseball organizaiton, in this case the Pittsburgh Pirates, is nothing short of mind blowing:

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really do have million-dollar arms.

The two 20-year-old pitchers, neither of whom had picked up a baseball until earlier this year, signed free-agent contracts Monday with the Pirates. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional baseball contracts outside their country.

Singh and Patel came to the United States six months ago after being the top finishers in an Indian reality TV show called the Million Dollar Arm that drew about 30,000 contestants. The show sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 85 miles per hour or faster.

While neither pitcher threw hard enough to earn the $1 million prize, Singh made $100,000 from the contest and Patel made $2,500, plus his trip to the United States.

The contest was sponsored by a California sports management company that believed it could locate major league-worthy arms in a country of more than one billion. After working extensively with Southern California pitching coach Tom House since May, the pitchers staged a tryout in Tempe, Ariz., on Nov. 6 that was attended by 30 major league scouts.

and

"Think of them as two Dominican kids," House told the scouts. "They're very raw. But I think this has a huge upside."

When they first came to the United States and began playing catch, the pitchers were mystified by the concept of gloves and had to be taught not to try to catch the ball with their bare hands.
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Patel and Singh are learning English, most of which they have picked up from watching ESPN's Baseball Tonight and by taking online classes.

And they are practicing their English on their blog, The Million Dollar Arm, which they update regularly. Intially, I thought the language on the blog was a joke, ghostwritten to be deliberately raw and conform to Indian English stereotypes. However, reading through the entries convinced me of its genuineness. It's hard to fake excitement at the opportunity of a lifetime. And the notion of desi athletes excelling in a game so far outside Indian norms is pretty cliche busting anyway.

What I liked most about the blog, in addition to the cameos by baseball superstars (tips from Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson and Brian Wilson? Really?), are the observations about living in a different, foreign country for the first time, the same problems encountered by immigrants such as homesickness and all that, but from a slightly different perspective i.e. not a student or white collar or blue collar worker and similar temptations. From that standpoint, a genuine voice on a ten dollar a month blog is worth more than a million dollars worth of marketing. Amidst much talk about practice and strength training, some choice excerpts on life in the USA:

  • The American Dream:: "Today was the first day of our training on American soil. People often hope to conquer this great, so-called ‘American Dream’ back home in India. But here we are, the lucky ones blessed with this dream. Who knew we would be the privileged two selected to play baseball in this great nation of opportunities!"
  • Jetlag: "I guess the Trans-Atlantic journey has affected me more than I’d want to believe. I was fighting sleep during practice hours yesterday. Today was no better. I hope coach hasn’t spotted me stifling my yawns. Definitely, don’t want the first impression to be the wrong one."
  • The Rock: "Rock very good actor. he writing Rinku, Keep Kicking Ass, Dwayne Johnson. "
  • Wedding In The US: "The Wedding festival in America like India little. Man and wife not ride horse or elephant in America. they walking to priest."
  • The Cable Guy Review: "We also watching the Cable Guy. The movie actor very good faces. he very crazy man, doing many crazy things in movie. End not so good."
  • Whether Santa Claus Exists: "We not believing in Santa Claus, but JB sir say it true. Santa sir deliver us sweat shirts in night. we find morning. we still think JB sir. Dinesh write note for the thanks and JB sir say you send letter North Pole. We going on line and see no one living north pole. very crazy american festival."
  • First Product Deal: "We get first deal with the Under Armor company. they makings us shoes, cleets, knickers, shirts. It was very awesome to return from the practice and received such kind gifts."
  • American Women: "One very, very bad thing about the news is that they say I on the BABEWATCH. This not true. i not watching girls. i only pitching, training, eat, watch baseball/Movies and sleep. American women very dangerous and very crazy. I like only Indian woman. Dinesh and JB, Sir have been harrassing me about this BABEWATCH. I do not like the BABEWATCH."
  • Being signed by the Pirates: "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."
  • The joys of Dennys: "We went with JB sir to breakfast at a great American breakfast eatery called Dennys. Rinku ordered a breakfast aclled the Lumberjack. We now know that a Lumberjack is a person who works as a tree cutter in the forrest so they must eat a lot of food. this breakfast was quite huge. It had eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, potatos, breads, and pancakes. I had French Toast and both meals were very fulfilling."

More nuggets on their blog, a must read if you want to follow two wild and crazy guys blogging their slice of the American Dream.

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- January 25, 2009 10:20 AM // Diaspora , Sports