Pirates look to television show to find pitching
It's come to this for the Pirates: They're turning to reality TV to find players.
The franchise, which tied a professional sports record last season by notching its 16th consecutive losing season, signed two pitchers from India yesterday who have no baseball experience.
Until a year ago, right-hander Dinesh Kumar Patel, 19, and lefty Rinku Singh, 20, never even picked up a baseball.
When they arrived in the United States six months ago, they spoke no English -- they learned the language by watching "Baseball Tonight" on ESPN and taking online classes.
"I don't know anything about the Pirates except that Barry Bonds played for them," Patel said last night by phone from the duo's personal training camp at the University of Southern California. "I never expected all this to happen. I'm very excited."
Patel and Singh have been training with USC pitching coach Tom House, a former major leaguer. They started at square one, having even to be taught how to use their mitts to catch a ball.
Patel and Singh competed on "Million Dollar Arm," a reality show in India that rewarded anyone who could throw strikes at 85 mph or faster.
Neither pitcher threw hard enough to earn the $1 million prize, but Singh made $100,000 from the contest and Patel made $2,500, plus his trip to the United States.
The contest was sponsored by a California sports management company that believed it could locate major league-worthy arms in a country of more than 1 billion. After working extensively with Southern California pitching coach Tom House since May, the pitchers staged a tryout in Tempe, Ariz., on Nov. 6 that was attended by 30 major league scouts.
Patel and Singh are believed to be the first Indian-born athletes to sign pro contracts outside of their country.
The Pirates gave both pitchers signing bonuses comparable to what a low-round draft pick would receive. The team did not reveal the specific amounts.
"There are a billion-plus people in India," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "It's like China, which is a hot market for teams because it has a billion people.
"This was an opportunity for us to sign two players whom we like, and also to put our foot in the door in what potentially is a tremendous market of future players."