True finale of 'Million Dollar Arm' yet to be penned
Film portrays first two Indian players to sign pro deals, one of whom still chasing dream
PITTSBURGH -- Behind him was batting practice, one of the many daily big league rituals he yearns to one day call his own.
But for now, here was Rinku Singh on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, standing to the right of an impeccably groomed Hollywood hero, doing his part to promote the Disney-fication of his life, playing to the cameras as best he could.
Go see the movie, sure.
"Million Dollar Arm" opens Friday and stars Jon Hamm (himself the owner of Million Dollar Hair) as the sports agent who plucked two cricket players out of India and tried to turn them into bona fide Major League prospects.
Like all movies gleaned from real life, it takes some liberties with the story of Singh and Dinesh Patel, the aforementioned natives of India who won a 2008 reality show in their home country and went on to sign pro contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it is true to the heart of a true tale about big dreams and what they do to us.
What they've done to Singh became evident when the cameras clicked off and he began to speak from the heart. The line he delivered was unscripted, which made it all the more powerful.
"I'm happy that this story is going to inspire a bunch of kids around the world," he said. "Other than that, I could care less [about the movie]. Because guess what? I'm far away from my family, my friends, my country, just because of one reason -- baseball. And I want to keep that alive."
"Million Dollar Arm," the product of real-life agent J.B. Bernstein's gripping gimmick, is a cool story, no doubt.
But the best part is that, thanks to the actual work put in by Singh and Patel, it is an ongoing story.
The credits roll on the movie treatment, but the sequel exists in the everyday, where Singh tries to make it in an unforgiving game and Patel tries to teach the particulars of a once-unknown sport to a new generation of athletes from India.
"There's over a billion people in India," Hamm said. "There are going to be more and more people coming over here that are going to have this experience, and they won't come over like Rinku and Dinesh did -- never having seen a baseball. They're going to come over with three, four years of training as little kids, learning a little more about fundamentals and understanding the game."
Hamm grew up in St. Louis, where the game is, as he said, "part of your DNA."
So he approached this project as a sort of ambassador for the sport. He's seen its growth in appeal on the international level, and he, like Bernstein before him, sees relatively untapped potential in the second-most populous country in the world.
Hamm hopes this movie conveys that, and he hopes the film capitalizes on the game's greater global reach.
"It used to be an unwritten rule in Hollywood that baseball doesn't work," Hamm said. "It better be funny, but it doesn't work otherwise because it doesn't play overseas. I honestly think that the flattening of the globe and the increase in international players in the Majors ... has broadened the impact of the game. You can dial up a baseball game in Italy on whatever satellite network or MLB.com. If you're a fan and you want to watch the game, you can."
The movie -- and the book of the same name -- are borne out of the television contest Bernstein set up in 2008. It combed the land from Mumbai to Delhi, offering a prize of $100,000 to the pitcher who could throw the most strikes over 85 mph in a 20-pitch span. That pitcher would then have a chance to win $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes of at least 90 mph.
Singh and Patel didn't win the million, but they did translate their javelin-tossing skills well enough to pitch their way out of poverty and into Los Angeles, where they received formal training from mound guru Tom House. The Pirates signed the pair that winter for a combined total of $8,000. And had the "Million Dollar Arm" story ended there, it would have been entertaining enough.
But here's Singh, still adamant that his future rests in a game he once knew literally nothing about.
"I'm crazy about this," he said. "I want it. If I'm going to go back to India, I don't know what I would do."
Perhaps he would do what Patel now does. Released by the Bucs in 2010, Patel is finishing school and teaching baseball to the kids in India, where the "Million Dollar Arm" saga has increased the cognizance of baseball's pull. In recent months, an initiative called Grand Slam Baseball has sought to bring together India's various fringe baseball leagues under one umbrella, an attempt to legitimize America's pastime in a land where cricket is king.
"Every time I go home, when I share the journey with [the children of India], they're telling me that they want to be like me," Singh said. "This is what keeps me working hard every day."
Right now, though, the work is of the rehab variety.
Singh, 25, remains a reliever in the Pirates' system, where he posted a 3.00 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 72 innings with the Class A West Virginia Power in 2012. But he hasn't pitched since '12 because of arm injuries. Singh had Tommy John surgery last September and another procedure recently to remove a bone chip from his elbow. He hopes to resume throwing in August and get back on the track toward the Major Leagues next spring.
"Now that I know that finally they did the right surgery, I'm so happy," Singh said. "I'm just trying to work to get my strength back."
In the meantime, Singh is caught up in the whirlwind of Hollywood promotion. Last week, he was back in Los Angeles for the premiere of the film, in which his part is played by "Life of Pi" star Suraj Sharma. And Sunday, there were the interviews with various media outlets, including an in-game appearance on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."
Singh is flattered by the attention and pleased with the production. But he knows Hollywood will soon move on. Indeed, Hamm was flying back west to wrap "Mad Men," and the movie will be out on Blu-ray by the time Singh next pitches in a game. The red carpet, he knows, will no longer be laid out before him.
"At the end of the day, who's going to be there?" Singh asked aloud. "Me and baseball. So why not focus on baseball, instead of focusing on that movie?"
After all, the credits have not yet rolled on his story.