Baseball's 'Slumdog Millionaire' Story

Indian reality show "The Million Dollar Arm" hunts for the next baseball star.

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 3:22 PM

Feb. 17, 2009 — -- Nine months ago, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel from the impoverished villages of Holepur and Varanasi in central India, had never heard of baseball. Names like the Yankees, Red Sox, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson didn't mean a thing to them.

Things have changed for 19-year-old Singh and 20-year-old Patel, who are now in spring training at the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league camp in Bradenton, Fla., and in the running to become the sport's next big household names.

Baseball's most unlikely rookies got their start in a highly unusual way -- by entering an Indian reality show called "The Million Dollar Arm."

"We basically created 'Indian Idol,' but we took out the singing and put in pitching," said J.B. Bernstein, who created the show.

Bernstein, a California-based sports agent, came up with the idea for the show as a way to tap into the resources of the world's second most populous country, assuming that he could unlock a pool of hidden talent with the right incentives.

More than 30,000 young men showed up to compete for a chance at the prize money -- as much as $1 million -- and a trip to America to try out for a group of major league scouts. Singh and Patel, whose closest experience to pitching a baseball was throwing a javelin, were the standouts.

"Probability dictates that with that many men between the ages of 16 and 21, we were going to find guys who were great natural athletes, who could throw the ball fast," said Bernstein. "The issue was whether any of them could learn to pitch, play baseball."

Singh finished first by throwing an 89-mile-per-hour fastball, and won a $100,000 prize. He instantly became the richest man in his village, where his family of 10 had been sharing a one-room home. Patel was named runner-up after throwing 87 mph.

To determine whether their throwing power could translate into baseball prowess, Singh and Patel left India last May, moved in with Bernstein in Los Angeles, and began training at the University of Southern California.