Million dollar visit to PNC Park for actor, Indian pitcher
It was a different kind of pregame scene at PNC Park.
Players' moms occupied the home dugout, celebrating Mother's Day. ESPN folks were everywhere for the first Pirates-hosted Sunday Night Baseball telecast since 1996, when they played in Three Rivers Stadium.
Topping it off were the two well-dressed men doing interviews and posing for pictures. One of them, actor Jon Hamm, was instantly recognizable. The other, Rinku Singh, was not. But if not for Singh's extraordinary accomplishments, Hamm would have been back in Hollywood filming the last season of his best-known work, the hit cable series “Mad Men.”
Actually, Hamm was scheduled to leave early and do exactly that, sparing himself the awkwardness of cheering for his favorite team, as guest of the Pirates.
Hamm grew up near St. Louis, where Cardinals' fandom “becomes part of your DNA,” he said.
Hamm and Singh were plugging the Disney movie, “Million Dollar Arm,” which opens Friday. Unlike Hamm, Singh, who is portrayed by Suraj Sharma, is not in the film. But his story inspired it.
In 2007, Singh, a javelin thrower from rural India, won what amounted to an “American Idol”-style, televised baseball-throwing contest in his country. Hamm plays the sports agent, JB Bernstein, who came up with the idea.
Dinesh Patel, who had a similar background to Singh, also proved good enough to earn an invite to the U.S. to train.
After learning how to play the game — along with a new language and culture — from scratch, both signed with the Pirates. Patel eventually washed out of baseball. Singh, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound lefthander, is still part of the organization, recovering from Tommy John surgery after four solid seasons in the minor leagues.
“It's incredibly inspirational, even for me,” said Hamm, 43, who smiled and cracked jokes and lived up to his nice-guy reputation that apparently is the real deal.
“He's not just a great actor, he's a great human being,” Singh said.
“(The film) is incredibly inspiring, and I can only repay the compliments that Rinku's given me,” Hamm said. “It states to the measure of his character that he's gone through this experience and stayed humble, stayed grateful and stayed positive.”
Singh, 25, was affable enough. But standing on the PNC Park turf for the first time while the Pirates took batting practice, he was all-business, often playing down the hype surrounding the film.
“My focus is completely baseball,” he said.
The movie serves as a reminder to “just take a look at what I have been through,” said Singh. “I'm the same, exact guy I was back in the day. This is something that's keeping me straight and not do any stupid things, to be the same kid exactly that left the country.”
Outwardly, he hardly is the same kid. He has grown up and filled out. Mainly, Singh is a professional baseball player, grasping the same goal as any other professional baseball player.
“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. I'm far away from my family, my friends, my country. Just because of one reason — baseball. I want to keep that alive.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.