Real Story Behind Jon Hamm’s Smooth-Talking Sports Agent Character in ‘Million Dollar Arm’

Both actor Jon Hamm, left, who plays sports agent JB Bernstein, right, in "Million Dollar Arm" are shown here on set.

On television’s “Mad Men,” Jon Hamm plays Don Draper -- the clever and creative advertising man who can sell just about anything.

But in his new movie role as a down-on-his-luck sports agent, he’s making his wildest pitch yet: a contest to find major league-caliber pitching stars in a country where almost no one has ever seen a baseball.

Only this time, the character Hamm plays is real -- and is now the subject of an upcoming Disney film, “Million Dollar Arm,” in theaters nationwide May 16. The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.

“Anyone can make this stuff up, but when it happens to real people, in real life, I think the emotional impact is even more so,” Hamm told "Nightline" during filming in Atlanta last summer.

Actor Jon Hamm, who plays sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm shown here on set.
Jake Whitman/ABC
Actor Jon Hamm, who plays sports agent JB Bernstein in "Million Dollar Arm" shown here on set.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET.

Hamm plays JB Bernstein, the smooth-talking sports agent who created the Million Dollar Arm contest in India.

Back in 2008, Bernstein’s idea seemed improbable -- stage an “American Idol”-like contest across India, to discover Major League Baseball’s next big stars.

He thought if he could turn Indian cricket throwers into professional pitchers in America, the marketing opportunities in a country of more than one billion people would be endless.

“There had to be ‘natural ability guys,’ just like there would be here in Untied States if it weren’t for sports,” Bernstein said. “It wouldn’t change Roger Clemens’ natural ability. He would just be doing something else because there’s no baseball.”

“The probability of finding a raw, natural talent athlete there was huge to us,” he added.

About 37,000 athletes competed in the Million Dollar Arm contest in cities all across India.

In the end, it would be two javelin throwers who would be the fastest and most accurate: Rinku Singh and runner-up Dinesh Patel.

Singh threw an 89 mile-per-hour fastball in the competition, despite never having picked up a baseball in his life.

But just as Bernstein brought the boys to the U.S. to begin training, his scheme to cash in on their talent began to fall apart.

Singh and Patel flubbed their first tryout before major league scouts.

But it was that early failure that forced Bernstein to form a connection with the two boys.

It’s a real-life plot twist that Hamm said drew him to want to portray Bernstein on the big screen.

PHOTO: Rinku Singh, left, one of the subjects of Million Dollar Arm, is played by Life of Pis Suraj Sharmal, right. Shown here, Singh offers Sharmal some pitching tips.
Jake Whitman/ABC
PHOTO: Rinku Singh, left, one of the subjects of "Million Dollar Arm," is played by "Life of Pi's" Suraj Sharmal, right. Shown here, Singh offers Sharmal some pitching tips.

“He realizes that he’s impacting their lives, not always positively,” Hamm said. “So he makes the decision to become a force for positive change in their lives, and becomes much more of a father figure to the boys than I think he ever intended.”

“It’s just a very interesting story for me, especially as someone who gets to play maybe not the most wholesome person on the planet, six months out of the year,” Hamm said.

Bernstein manages to get the boys a second chance -- and they were able to impress new scouts who sign them to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization -- making Singh and Patel the first ever Indian nationals to sign contracts with Major League Baseball.

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