by Reuters, www.english.aljazeera.net
Success of ‘Million Dollar Arm’ duo at Pittsburgh Pirates minor league team has other hopefuls winding up for fame.
The arrival of Indian Premier League cricket has allowed Twenty20 cricket specialists to make fortunes on the field, but the chance of more glamour on the other side of the world is proving almost as tempting.
Young men all over India are flexing their muscles in the hope that a strong arm will carry them into a money-spinning career in baseball in the United States.
Despite the lack of a baseball tradition in cricket-crazy India, the dream is not an impossible one, as Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel proved in a tale that is being immortalised in a Walt Disney film.
Singh beat 35,000 rivals three years ago in a talent-hunt in India dubbed “The Million-Dollar Arm” (TMDA) and is tipped to break into Major League Baseball (MLB) after a spell with the minor-league Pittsburg Pirates.
Patel, second in the throwing contest, also earned a contract with the Pirates and, after a lucrative stint in the US which included a meeting with President Barack Obama, is back home looking for a coaching job.
Now, India is looking for someone to follow in their footsteps, with the second TMDA contest beginning in Bangalore last week and due to trawl 60 cities, towns and villages in search of potential baseball talent.
“India’s rural belt has unbelievable potential,” said Vivek Daglur, vice president of Turn On, TMDA’s official partner in India.
“So many are pursuing sports just to get a job in the army or the railways. Their dedication is unbelievable. Some I met could afford only one meal a day but still ran 20km just to be a marathon runner.
“TMDA is the perfect platform for anyone with that simple thing. You just need to have a strong arm, nothing else. There are tremendous possibilities that we would take you and sculpt a champion out of you.”
The last contest changed the lives of Singh, son of a truck driver, and Patel, whose father was unemployed.
Both were javelin throwers nursing Olympic dreams before they won the chance to leave their homes near the north Indian holy city of Varanasi and go to the States.
“I don’t know how to put it in words; I’m still living the dream,” the soft-spoken Patel told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
“I had not even seen a baseball before turning up for that talent show. Suddenly I found myself training in Los Angeles,” the 23-year-old added, briefly hesitating before abandoning broken English for fluent Hindi.
“One day, we went to Washington to meet President Barack Obama. You don’t get such opportunities. I did not say much, just met him, shook his hand and told him we are baseball players from India.
“He said something in English…we gave him a jersey with his name on the back.”
Patel said he was proud to have been a pioneer.
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