11/09/08 11:00 AM EST
India the next addition to scouting map?
Teenage duo audition in front of Major League scouts in Arizona
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Yet, at some point, maybe in the not too distant future, what Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel did Thursday morning will be viewed as a watershed moment for international scouting. Neither Singh nor Patel, both 19, had ever seen a baseball game, much less had visions of auditioning for scouts at this time last year.
Living in India, the pair was attending the Guru Govind Singh Sports College while preparing to go into the army. They were javelin throwers in their native country and occasionally played some cricket. Baseball, however, was a game with which they were not familiar. That is until the duo decided to enter The Million Dollar Arm contest, a program designed to see if a country of more than a billion people could produce a few viable professional prospects.
There were more than 30,000 entries, a group that was whittled down to 30 finalists, Singh and Patel among them. The idea was to find two winners between the ages of 15 and 25 who could throw faster than 85 mph consistently for strikes. The program was the brainchild of promoter JB Bernstein, who is also Barry Bonds' marketing agent.
Patel, a 5-foot-11 right-hander who consistently touches the low 90s on the gun, encouraged his teammate to join him in trying out, and the pair was victorious. Singh, a 6-foot-2 lefty, who also throws consistently in the lows 90s, was declared the winner and earned $100,000 and a trip to the United States, where they would be trained by former Major Leaguer and current USC pitching coach Tom House.
That was back in May. They've been training with House since, achieving the first of many goals Thursday morning by progressing far enough to even warrant a tryout. Ray Poitevint, a long-time baseball executive and a staple in the scouting community went to India to help sort through all the contestants, and came away impressed with Patel and Singh. He believes it could be the start of something big, not only for the youngster but for baseball as well.
"If you go back 25-30 years, tell me how many Dominicans were playing and being scouted," Poitevint said. "There are a lot of athletes in India, athletes that are equal to or better than the ones that Dominicans had 25 years ago. This is not a publicity stunt. When you're scouting you need to take all kinds of shots and use your imagination.
"And then maybe ... three, four, five years later you see a guy who reminds you of someone with whom you've had success in the past. We're in the business of trying to develop baseball players and eventually if it works, we'll be signing someone from India."
Several of the scouts at the tryout agreed with Poitevint's assessment and said that it was likely that one or both players could be offered contracts. By who and for how much remains to be seen, but a door was clearly opened Thursday morning. Whether a pipeline of players eventually comes through that door won't be known for years, if at all, but the possibility of such an untapped resource had the front-office folks in attendance smiling.
"I think they did well today," House said. "They didn't throw as hard as we've seen them throw, but they didn't embarrass themselves either. Scouts came to watch and the kids and I really appreciate that. I think I was worried more about today than they were. If I do this again, though, I think mentally and emotionally I would get them better prepared for today. "They were extremely nervous and that's not an excuse, but they were also having trouble with the mound. It was the first time they've thrown off a strange mound. It was a little loose and it gave way on their landing foot. I couldn't fix it but I did tell the scouts they were having trouble with the mound."
Singh, who also throws a split-finger, played some cricket back home and hasn't completely abandoned the mechanics used in that game when he's on the mound. His delivery has a bit of quirk to it, but one scout said that it adds deception so he'd just leave it alone. Bernstein likened Singh to Dontrelle Willis. Bernstein said Patel is more of a power pitcher but that he also throws a competent circle change.
The pair are headed back to India shortly to help promote the second Million Dollar Arm contest, but will likely be hearing from an interested Major League team or two. House is proud of what he's accomplished with both pitchers but has no delusions of them making a big splash right away wherever they play.
"They still have to learn how to play the game," House said. "Their talent is the upside but it's going to take them a while to learn how to play. It's not going to take much to get them to sign, either. If you're looking at it as an organization, you can really develop these kids.
"I know they can pitch, but we have to teach them how to play the game. It's well worth the risk."
Singh and Patel, who are learning English by watching Baseball Tonight, watched the World Series with House and have begun learning about the game's history. They've met Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson and Chan Ho Park in the last few months and are eager to continue their journey; a journey on which they could be considered pioneers.
"We've had discussions about [being pioneers]," said Ash Vasudevan, who is the managing director of The Million Dollar Arm program and the duo's translator. "They feel they are onto something novel and unique. They are the first of a kind."
And in a few years, who knows? This pair of teenagers from the other side of the world may be considered the start of something big.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.