India Reality TV Show Searches For Next U.S. Baseball Star
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
To a different topic now, the World Series swings into action tonight as the New York Yankees take on defending world champions the Philadelphia Phillies. Between enjoying the crushing home run blast and the dazzling defense of double play, take a quick glance at the players themselves. It's clear that baseball, known to generations as America's pastime, has a growing number of star players from all over the world.
And now we talk about another effort to add to baseball's diversity, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel are the first baseball players from India to be recruited by a Major League Baseball team. They just completed their first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League team the Bradenton Pirates. Here's the curve ball. They were both training to be javelin throwers when they participated in an Indian reality show, "The Million Dollar Arm," where contestants competed to see who could throw the fastest baseball pitch.
The winner of the "Million Dollar Arm," Rinku Singh joins us now. Also with us is J.B Bernstein. He's a sports agent and co-founder of the company that started the show. And in the past, he's represented athletes such as Emmitt Smith, Barry Bonds and Barry Sanders. Gentlemen, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. J.B. BERNSTEIN (Co-founder, "Million Dollar Arm"): Thanks for having us.
Mr. RINKU SINGH (Baseball Player, Bradenton Pirates): Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: So J.B., let's start with you. What gave you the idea to travel halfway around the world from here to look for baseball players in India? It's not like there's a shortage of players on this hemisphere.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No, definitely not. I think in looking at India, I'm looking at the fact, you know, they have over 300 million men under the age of 25 and 100 percent of them pretty much play cricket in some form. So they're used to throwing a baseball-sized object. And because there is not a big pro sports scene in India, it just seemed that there had to be a lot of natural athletes out there.
The question was, does the age-old saying everybody says you can't teach speed - If I can have a guy who throws hard, I'll teach him everything else - well, that's the one thing we put to the test with, you know, one of the top coaches and it seems to have worked out.
MARTIN: So you're looking for - basically, you're looking for the Yao Ming of India. You can find a new talent pool that you figure you can also… xxx
Mr. BERNSTEIN: …with, you know, one of the top coaches, and it seems to have worked out, so…
MARTIN: So you're looking for basically, you're looking for the Yao Ming of India. You can find a new talent pool, but you figure you can also build an audience for baseball in India?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Definitely. Yes, through following these guys, I think, you know, that's a great model, the Yao Ming-NBA model, and yeah, if we can create that artificially in India with baseball, I think we could see a similar type of…
MARTIN: So there was no romance in this for you. There was no - this was just a business thing?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: No disrespect, but it wasn't like you were, like, oh, you know, the romance of the American pastime.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No, well, I am a baseball fan more than anything. So yeah, I mean, there's certainly, I think, always a personal element to me with baseball. But yeah, I mean, there's no doubt this was a business decision that, by the way, everybody thought was stupid.
MARTIN: They did?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I didn't get a lot of good response when I tried to explain this to people on the front end, so…
MARTIN: What did they say?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Basically everybody thought I had just lost my marbles.
MARTIN: Rinku, what about you? You had never played baseball before this contest. Had you ever seen a baseball game?
Mr. SINGH: No, we never think about baseball. We never heard about baseball before "The Million Dollar Arm" contest.
MARTIN: What made you want to participate? The million dollars sounds pretty good.
Mr. SINGH: Yeah, "Million Dollar Arm" sounds pretty good, but we not believe. We think this is joke, and one of the javelin coach, he tell me, when "The Million Dollar Arm" competition comes up, if you guys go through hard, maybe win some money, we think this is joke, but when you go out there, throw hard. Then I win some money, then I think whoa, that's awesome. You never think about it.
MARTIN: Now, I understand that even though you came in first place, you just missed winning the million dollars - because to get the million dollars, you had to throw consecutive pitches of 90 miles an hour or more. Do I have that right?
Mr. SINGH: Yes, but I win just $100,000.
MARTIN: That's not bad.
Mr. SINGH: Yeah, that's not bad. That's awesome.
MARTIN: And I understand that you could use that money, right, that you have kind of a big family, right, seven siblings? Do I have that right?
Mr. SINGH: Yeah, I have big family. And I give some money to my parents and buying some new truck, because my father, he's also a truck driver. So now I buy truck for him, and I give some money to my sister and my mother, and I keep some money with me.
MARTIN: I was going to say, did you buy anything for yourself?
Mr. SINGH: I buy lots of jeans and, like, yesterday I buying Oakley. J.B. said took me one place.
MARTIN: You bought some Oakleys.
Mr. SINGH: Uh-huh, that's pretty nice.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: He bought the Livestrong Oakleys.
MARTIN: So J.B., how did the two finalists, the first and second place winner go from winning the contest to coming here? They still had to be picked up by a team, right? That was not assured.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah, we took all the risk on that. We brought them over to the United States on our own dime, had them train for about six months at USC under coach Tom House. In November, we dragged them out in front of a bunch of scouts, and they had two or three tryouts. And there were several teams interested, but ultimately the Pirates wanted to keep them both together. And it's worked out great, but yeah, it was - those six months while they were training, you start to think every day, you know, how are they going to do this? How's this - you know, they can't throw, they don't know how to play the game, they don't know the rules, and you know, they deserve all the credit.
Anybody could have come up with this idea. They literally are the only two people that I could find in recorded history, to go from a position of not knowing or hearing of a sport, to actually recording their first win in less than 14 months.
MARTIN: Just to that point, on July 13th, Rinku became the first Indian-born pitcher to win a professional baseball game in America, and he finished the season with a 1-2 record and a 5.84 ERA in 11 games, allowing just one run on three hits in your final six appearances. J.B., did I get that right?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: You sure did. That's impressive. Yeah, I was like, you had to dig deep for those A-league stats.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Yes, that's what we do. So Rinku, what was the hardest part? Is it a little lonely? I know that you and Dinesh - Dinesh who is the second-place winner of "The Million Dollar Arm" - you were placed on the same team, but is it a little lonely?
Mr. SINGH: No, we go in game together, and we doing working out together, and Dinesh is my roommate.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: In terms of the other guys on the team, Rinku, though, you have friends with the Dominicans, and the…
Mr. SINGH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, a lot of friends, like American and Dominican and some of the South African guys. They have two South African and two Australian guys. They have lots of friends over there.
MARTIN: How's the food?
Mr. SINGH: Now I really like American food. You know, like I says, pepperoni pizza and chicken wings.
MARTIN: Chicken wings.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SINGH: Yeah.
MARTIN: Is there any Indian food in Bradenton?
Mr. SINGH: Yeah, they have one, two place, but they have, like, more spicy stuff.
MARTIN: So Rinku, what's your dream now? I mean, this is obviously a new experience for you. What are you hoping for now?
Mr. SINGH: You know, one thing I don't know about future, but I really focus what I'm doing right now, and I help my team to win many, many games, and my main thing goal to moving next level.
MARTIN: Okay, I'm tempted to make a joke about the Pirates, but I won't.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I hate to break it to you. He's heard some jokes about the Pirates already.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I'm from New York. I can't help it.
Mr. SINGH: Not in my face, against my face, but…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Okay, but Rinku, what about your family at home? How do they feel about what you're doing? Have they ever seen a baseball game?
Mr. SINGH: I haven't seen, long time, my family, but sometime I make phone call to them. But they not understand what am I doing here.
MARTIN: Yeah, what do they think you're doing here?
Mr. SINGH: They have no idea what I'm doing here because in India, they never saw what is baseball. So I sent some DVDs, and they saw games, how to play, but they still do not understand. But my parents are always saying just keeping working hard and do well. That's all they say every time.
MARTIN: J.B., what's this been like for you?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Very different. I've never worked with players where you take on the role of almost parent, you know, and there's a responsibility I have to their parents, you know, taking these kids out of these small villages and bringing them halfway around the world, and it's very different for me.
You know, I never had to teach any of my other players, you know, how to use a fork or, you know, things like the very just, most basic things.
MARTIN: They actually lived with you for a time.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: For a long time. Yeah, they lived with me from May until January, so May of '08 until January of '09. So yeah, it's definitely changed me in terms of, you know, how I think about things and having, you know, two young kids around the house was definitely different.
You know, being a bachelor, you know, I obviously didn't have any kids, and to come home every day from work and a hard day and then, you know, to have two guys looking at you like what's for dinner? I'm like what?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BERNSTEIN: So you know, it was very differently. But ultimately, they're such good guys, it was easy to do the extra work, and I think I definitely feel a little bit different than I do with another client, getting them a big deal or, you know, this is a very personal thing now for me now with these guys.
MARTIN: "The Million Dollar Arm" is the brainchild of sports agent J.B. Bernstein. It's a new reality TV game show in India, where contestants compete for the fastest baseball pitch. Rinku Singh was the winner of the first season of that program, and he's one of the two of the first Indians to be recruited by a professional baseball team in the U.S. And J.B. and Rinku both joined us from NPR West. Thank you both so much, and good luck to you both.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Thanks so much, Michel.
Mr. SINGH: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: Singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello has crafted a remarkable career by foregoing Pop-Tart glamour and writing songs about complex social issues. But she says she has succeeded by keeping her musical goals simple.
Ms. MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO (Singer, Songwriter): Either you do it for the music, or you want to be a star, and those are two different things, and I just like to play music.
MARTIN: A special performance from Meshell Ndegeocello, songs from her new album, "Devil's Halo." That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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