Date:30/06/2011 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2011/06/30/stories/2011063051281000.htm
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Shoot to fame in 30 seconds

The Million Dollar Arm nationwide tryouts is scouting for the next big baseball pitcher



THE FIRST STEP Dinesh Kumar Patel, runner up of TMDA's Season I, makes the ceremonial first pitch

It takes just 30 seconds, but it can launch a million-dollar career for you — in baseball. The Million Dollar Arm (TMDA) nationwide tryouts — currently under way across the country — is an amazing crossover experiment, where an American sports management company is working its way through India's cricket-crazy millions to find the next big baseball pitcher.

Throw a ball!

All you have to do is turn up at the tryout and throw a ball into a net, while your ‘shoulder speed' is measured. “In 30 seconds, we can tell if a teenager has a future career in baseball,” says Vivek Daglur, vice-president of Turn On, the official partner of TMDA in India. TMDA was the brainchild of Jeff Bernstein, a sports agent in the U.S., who felt that India had the potential to be a goldmine of pitching talent. “He knew that Indian teenagers are constantly playing cricket — at home, on the street, in school and in college — and that their bowling action isn't that different from pitching in baseball,” says Daglur. “When you consider that we're also one of the youngest nations in the world (with about 550 million under the age of 25), you wonder why no one thought of this before.”

Hunt's on

Tryouts were recently held in Chennai, as part of TMDA's 50-plus city talent hunt, with between 250 and 400 youngsters turning out at each stop.

Quite a response, given that baseball doesn't register on the radar of your average Indian sports fan. But then, TMDA offers the promise of a $1 million prize for the winner, and a chance for the top pitchers to travel abroad and be part of a professional major league baseball team.

Take the case of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel, the winners of the first edition of TMDA that was held back in 2008. The two, both from villages near Varanasi, spent six months training in Los Angeles (all fully paid for), learning the basics of the game, and being groomed to become the first two professional Indian baseball players ever. Today, Rinku plays in the rookie leagues, and is tipped to make the major leagues in a couple of years. Dinesh, on the other hand, is back in India, having found the going a bit rough, but is upbeat about his plans of playing in China or for India (yes, we do have a baseball team).

Their remarkable story has garnered so much attention in the U.S. that Walt Disney is planning to bring out a movie on their rags-to-riches story. “The scriptwriter was in India recently, visiting their villages, and trying to understand the country,” says Daglur. “If all goes well, it should be out next year.”

Getting bigger

This second edition of TMDA is even bigger, since it has the full support of Major League Baseball (MLB, comparable to the ICC in cricket, according to Daglur). “This means that the winners will have all the leagues across the world open to them,” he says.

It really is a one-of-a-kind chance for teenagers with big sporting dreams. “You don't need to know baseball, you don't even need to have a sporting background,” says Daglur. “This platform gives kids, even those from tier-two and -three towns, a totally unbiased opportunity; all we ask for is the willingness to work hard.”

DIVYA KUMAR

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