Indian baseball players chase American dream

Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:33am EST
 
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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Two Indian youngsters chasing the American baseball dream have taken an important first step when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed them up as non-draft free agents.

Left-hander Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel pitched in front of scouts from the Pirates and other Major League organizations on November 12 before being chosen, a statement on the club website (www.pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com) said.

The players, with shoulder strength gained through their initial training to become javelin throwers, earned a U.S. training stint in May after topping a pitching contest in India, "The Million-Dollar Arm," which offered the winner $100,000.

Singh, 20, who won that contest and Patel, 19, will now take part in the Pirates' Minor League spring training next year.

Their promoters hope they can make it as professionals, saying such success would boost baseball in cricket-mad India in the same way that Yao Ming's move to the NBA created a fan base for basketball in China.

"The Pirates are committed to creatively adding talent to our organization," Pirates senior-vice president, general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement on Monday.

"By adding these two young men, we are pleased to not only add two prospects to our system but also hope to open a pathway to an untapped market."

"We are intrigued by Patel's arm strength and Singh's frame and potential. These young men have improved a tremendous amount in their six-month exposure to baseball and we look forward to helping them continue to fulfill their potential." The winners of the "Million Dollar Arm" contest were decided on the basis of their ability to pitch at 85 miles an hour or faster for strikes.

The duo from Uttar Pradesh state in northern India, trained with University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House, who felt they held some promise.

"I know they can pitch, but we have to teach them how to play the game," he said. "It is well worth the risk."

(Reporting by N.Ananthanarayanan; Editing by John Mehaffey)

 
<p>India's Dinesh Patel (L) and Rinku Singh (2nd L), winners of a nationwide baseball pitching contest, watch as U.S. ambassador to India David C. Mulford (R) speaks after handing them visas in New Delhi May 2, 2008. The two Indian teenagers are chasing an American dream as baseball professionals and their promoters hope they can stir up interest in the game in their cricket-mad homeland. REUTERS/U.S. Embassy/Handout</p>