'Million Dollar Arm' Singh aiming for Major Leagues
Winner of reality show poised to report to Pirates' Spring Training, be portrayed in film
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rinku Singh, the left-handed pitcher who came to the U.S. from his native India almost six years ago after winning a contest, is about to become more than famous.
He emerged the winner of the first "Million Dollar Arm" reality show by throwing an 88-mph fastball in the strike zone, the fastest and most accurate among 37,000 contestants. Previously, the javelin thrower and youngest of seven brothers and sisters had never tossed a baseball.
Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates a mere 13 months later, Singh became the first native of India to win a game in professional baseball, victorious for the Pirates' Rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League. Beset by recent arm injuries, he told MLB.com on Monday that he is growing stronger and healthier and he has one goal and one goal only: to pitch and win for the Pirates in the Major Leagues.
"That's why I'm here," he said in an interview at a local Starbucks. "I wish I could tell you what the future might bring. But the faith and belief I have right now, the way I'm going through my day, my training, I think it's going to make it happen one day."
One has to love the conviction.
Whether he pitches in the Majors or not, Singh will shortly rise above the numerous kids toiling in the Minor Leagues everywhere when the Disney-produced film, "Million Dollar Arm," is released in May. Singh and reality show runner-up Dinesh Patel were signed by the Pirates to Minor League contracts in 2008. Since then, Singh is 10-6 with a 2.99 ERA in 84 games, all in relief, all played at no higher than the Class A level. He didn't pitch in 2013, but he has since immersed himself in learning the game of baseball. Patel has gone home.
The film documents the voyage of these two kids from the Indian backwaters to the Minor Leagues. The marketing agent, J.B. Bernstein -- who helped bring the reality show to India -- sold the rights of the film to Disney and an accompanying book to Simon & Schuster.
The movie has an A-1 cast. Jon Hamm, a huge baseball fan and better known as the complex Don Draper in "Mad Men," is playing J.B. The ageless Alan Arkin is a scout. Suraj Sharma, who played a kid marooned on a small boat accompanied by a wild tiger in the phantasmagorical "Life of Pi," is Singh.
That's not the end of the story. The next chapter is what happens to Singh. Having never thrown a baseball, Singh succumbed to the pressure of overthrowing and bad mechanics and suffered through some arm problems. He's spent the last four months in Arizona building up his arm strength and working out, please excuse the pun, like a mad man. He is heading back to India this week for the wedding of one of his siblings and is due at Pirates camp in Bradenton, Fla., by early March where he will continue his rehab.
He says his schedule has him throwing again in a game during extended spring training this coming April, not long before the film is released. Life imitates art. He's sure to take some ribbing from his teammates, who will see a bit of his life personified on the silver screen. But like his ardent quest to pitch in the Majors, he says he's ready for it.
"It's really exciting," he said. "It's about Rinku and Dinesh's journey, about dreams finally coming true. We never thought Disney would make a movie. It is our film and we are really proud of it. When I think back on it, it's about what we have both done, coming to America, taking the big risk. I think it's really going to help motivate a lot of young kids. It's going to inspire them. It's going to teach them a lesson. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're coming from. If you put a 100 percent effort out there you have a chance to succeed."
Singh, at 25, is polite and well-spoken. During the interview he sported a beard and wore a black skull cap. He came to the U.S. with no fluency in either the English language or the language and art of playing baseball. A high school graduate about to go to college, he didn't even have a glove or the knowledge and ability to use one when he plunged into a completely new culture in the U.S. Since then, he has learned to speak English and Spanish and has overcome the mechanical problems that caused some of his arm woes. A recent short video taken with Singh's iPhone of him pitching in a gym on flat ground revealed a fluid and unencumbered left-handed motion.
Singh and Patel came to America as teenagers and lived in Los Angeles with Bernstein and trained for big league tryouts at USC. He was signed, pitched and even has been to the White House to meet President Obama. He said he learned to speak English, "just talking to people, watching movies and listening to music as much as I could." It took him seven months to learn the rules and how to play baseball.
Now he says baseball is his life and he's more than ready for the next big step.
"I won the competition and I realized I had to go to America now," Singh said. "That was the biggest decision that I ever had to make in my life. I left my whole family. I didn't know the American culture or the language. I gave up college. I gave up my degrees, whether I succeed in baseball or not. It was very strange. My parents were afraid. They were happy I was going to learn new things. But it was a mixture of excitement and being scared. I was the youngest in the family. It was hard for them to let me go.
"The experience I've gotten had made me a more mature. I would have never learned all this if I had stayed in India. I would've been a regular Indian kid. So now I feel like I did the right thing."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.