We usually interview media members, and sometimes we talk to athletes (and even an actor!), but never before for this blog have we spoken with winners of a contest who put themselves on track to becoming pro athletes. Last night, we chatted briefly with Pirates Pirates prospects Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, the first Indian-born players to sign with a MLB team. In 2008, they competed in the Million Dollar Arm contest, and despite both of them having zero baseball experience, they threw pitches at over 85 mph. After that, it was a whirlwind – fly to the United States, throw pitches in front of scouts, sign with the Pirates, extended spring training.
[How does The Big Lead factor into all of this? Nope, we weren't selected because of Indian heritage. USA Today and Sports Illustrated had profiled the boys (those lucky publications got to meet with the players, which, in hindsight, would have been much, much easier due to the language barrier). The show's publicist told us she was reading ESPN the Magazine one day and came across the story on jobs in sports, and thought, 'hmmm, maybe a blog wouldn't be a bad idea.]
That’s where we pick up their story. The boys are in Pirate City, located in lovely Bradenton, Florida. We spoke with them separately, and then their agent, Jeff Berstein (JB).
Q: What’s your daily routine like?
Rinku: We wake up at 6 am. At 7 am, breakfast. Then a throwing program. Somedays we play, somedays we watch film in the dugout. We eat lunch at 11:30 and games start at 12:30 or 1:30. We have dinner at 5 and play pool after dinner.
Dinesh: We don’t have car, so we don’t go outside. We stay in Pirate City all day. Practicing hard.
Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not playing baseball?
Rinku: Movies. We don’t go outside [the complex], just stay in Pirate City. On day off, we play pool. We go to Wal-Mart once a month.
Dinesh: One time I went to Sarasota for fishing. I caught a catfish. I wish I could go more, but we can’t go everyday.
Q: DId you have more fun in LA or Florida?
Dinesh: LA. We went outside three times a week, we went to party and beach and out to dinner.
[I asked about Slumdog Millionaire and though both said they liked it and watched it multiple times, the movie seemed like a sore subject, but they didn't articulate why. Rinku mentioned he recently saw the new Fast & Furious with teammates; I held off on Jordana Brewster questions.]
Q: Your velocity has improved (Rinku, the 6-foot-2 lefty, arrived with a fastball in the high 80s; Dinesh, a stocky righty, was closer to 90, but less accurate). What would you attribute this most to? Mechanics? Film? Practice? All? How high do you think you can go? Is 95 or 100 a goal?
Rinku: I am at 90 and Dinesh is at 92. We do the long toss everyday, and we work on mechanics. We throw everyday. If I work hard … I don’t know about the future, I’m just trying to get better everyday. My [goal] is to win the World Series with the Pirates. To win many games.
Dinesh: My best pitch is fastball. Then changeup and then slider. If I work hard … I need some time, sir. This is hard. We are just understanding about the game, but we need more experience. If we practice everyday and work hard, we can make it.
Q: How often do you speak with your family back home? Does part of you miss being home? Do you wish you could communicate with them more?
Rinku: Once a week.
Dinesh: If I want I could call everyday, but what can I talk everyday?
There were another dozen questions that were asked and answered, but the boys’ are prone to one-word answers and their English, while impressive after one year in the United States, wasn’t there for a phoner. I attempted to inquire about rookie hazing, but they didn’t seem familiar with the concept.
The takeaway: They work their butts off. We got the sense that extended spring training felt like one of those tennis academies that you send potential pros to. Wall-to-wall focus on baseball. The appear to be sponges, absorbing tips and learning the sport while watching games on a daily basis.
(I didn’t both ask for their thoughts on the McLouth trade, or the Pirates 15 years of futility or the Raul Ibanez mess; it didn’t seem like things they would have been aware of.)
It is too early to guess about their future prospects. The Gulf Coast League begins soon – according to their agent, June 20, but it doesn’t appear realistic to think that these kids who just learned about the sport last year, will make a rapid ascent to AA or AAA in the next few years. “It’s almost like trying to guess how tall your kid is going to be when he’s born. And even if you’re good enough, there has to be a spot for you. It’s impossible to predict these things.”
The boys are – gasp! – blogging.