Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Indian Cricketers Join Major League Baseball
While the Indian Navy is going after the pirates in the Gulf of Aden, two Indian youngsters are joining the Pirates in the United States.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel are two 20-year-old pitchers with million dollar arms. Neither had picked up a baseball until earlier this year. Both have now signed free-agent contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the prestigious five-times winners of the Major League Baseball World Series. They were the top finishers in “Million Dollar Arm,” an Indian reality TV show that searched for potential Major League Baseball talent in the country with millions playing cricket. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional sports contracts outside their country in a sport other than cricket. These contracts open up new and lucrative opportunities for South Asian cricketers beyond India's new cricket leagues.
The faster of the pair, Patel has clocked at 91-92 mph pitching speed, significantly slower than Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar's 100.3 mph considered the world's fastest bowling speed in cricket. The pirates see a lot of potential in both Singh and Patel as successful pitchers for their team.
"This is really big news," said JB Bernstein, a promoter and marketing agent who created the "Million Dollar Arm" contest in India that brought attention to the Indian boys. "I think when the boys return to India, that's when it will really reach its crescendo."
Singh and Patel will soon return to India for a 10-day visit. They haven't seen their families since the beginning of May, when both moved to the U.S. to train under University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House.
The signing got special attention from the US ambassador to India and the ambassador called a press conference to talk about it. The Indian media are now covering the story and their return to India is expected to generate a lot of enthusiasm.
It all started with an idea from Bernstein to see what type of baseball talent could be found in India. He developed the idea for a contest for boys and men between the ages of 16 and 21. The parameters were simple: see who could throw a baseball faster than 85 mph and for strikes.
Patel and Singh were among more than 37,000 people to try out, and both quickly emerged as finalists. The winner of the contest was set to receive a $100,000 prize and the opportunity to train with House.
The American Baseball sports agents have long been sourcing talent from Cuba, Dominican Republic and Japan. The inclusion of Indian players appears to be a way to open the vast Indian market for US Major League Baseball. Indian MLB franchise teams could potentially significantly enlarge the current $6b revenue opportunity to the South Asian and international media market. The MLB World Series games have been shown live in many countries of the world, including India. In October of this year, the Major League Baseball International broadcast the Fall Classic in 13 languages to 229 countries and territories around the world.