Pitcher in Pirates organization calls 'Million Dollar Arm,' the movie about his life, 'inspiring'

Rinku Singh started baseball career in Bradenton after winning Indian reality show

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 16, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Asked if he has seen the movie that chronicles his unique foray into the world of professional baseball, Rinku Singh had to laugh.

"Many times," he said Thursday.

Singh hopes people see Disney's "Million Dollar Arm," opening in theaters Friday, as much as he has.

It's not that Singh wants the movie to bring in a pot of money. Rather, he hopes theatergoers, especially the young ones, leave the film ready to take a chance themselves.

"There's one thing I'm excited about with this movie: I hope it's going to inspire a lot of kids," Singh said. "It is a very inspiring movie. And I've been excited to hear the feedback from the young people that have had the opportunity to see it.

"It's a very good lesson for the kids: If you want something and get to do a job, you can't take it for granted."

"Million Dollar Arm" tells the story of Singh and Dinesh Patel, two cricket players who beat out more than 40,000 hopefuls on the 2008 reality show "Million Dollar Arm," which was dedicated to finding India's first pitching sensation.

The show was the brainchild of sports agent JB Bernstein, portrayed in the movie by "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm.

"Like any good idea, you have a lot of things flying around your head. And then you have what I call the 'Eureka!' moment," Bernstein told the Herald last summer. "In India, there are 200 million men, ages 16 through 29, and none of them are being scouted for any sports.

"There's very little opportunities in sports, very little scouting. ... It would be like in the U.S., you'd have the talents of players like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Reggie Jackson working regular jobs because there are no sports jobs."

Singh and Patel signed contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 2008 and worked out in Bradenton the following spring. Suraj Sharma, the star of 2012's "Life of Pi," plays Singh in the movie, which Singh says is about "80 percent accurate."

"Movies can never be real," Singh said. "The movie, it's true, but not 100 percent. They always put a little cream on top to make it taste better."

The cast also includes Oscar winner Alan Arkin and veteran character actor Bill Paxton. Rated PG, the movie has garnered an average score of 7.9 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, voted on by 853 users of the site who have seen the film.

Singh, Hamm and Bernstein flew to Pittsburgh's PNC Park last week to help promote the film. And the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' high Single-A affiliate hatched in 2010, are commemorating the movie by handing out Rinku Singh bobbleheads to the first 1,000 fans in attendance for Saturday night's game against the Dunedin Blue Jays at McKechnie Field.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m., and first pitch is at 6:30. Singh will be at the game to meet fans and sign autographs.

"It's exciting," Singh said of having his own bobblehead. "I haven't sent any home, but I've handed some out to the kids."

Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' senior director of Florida operations, said Singh is often in the stands during Marauders games and has become familiar to some of the team's fans. That made a promotional tie-in, such as a bobblehead, a no-brainer.

"This was his first stop after he signed," Gooby said. "He was supposed to be a Bradenton Marauder before he got hurt, and he's a great guy, so we wanted to do this for him and help promote the movie."

Gooby got a chance to see the movie in March during a special screening for Pirates minor-leaguers.

"They did a great job telling his story," Gooby said. "And it's an amazing story."

From its family-friendly rating to the presence of the Disney logo to its light-hearted trailers, "Million Dollar Arm" has the look and feel of a cuddly fairy tale. Singh, however, is still doing his part to craft a happy ending.

Though the Pirates released Patel after two years, Singh has made progress through the organization's chain. He appeared in a career-high 39 games in 2012 with the low Single-A West Virginia Power, going 3-1 with a solid 3.00 earned-run average.

Slowed by elbow injuries -- he underwent Tommy John surgery in October and had his elbow scoped two weeks ago -- Singh, a lefty, missed all of last season and is in Bradenton on a rehabilitation assignment. He hopes to be throwing again in August.

"I tried anything and everything I could before going under the knife, but it didn't work out," said Singh, who didn't speak English or know anything about baseball before coming to America six years ago. "But it's been about two weeks since I had the elbow scoped, and it's feeling much better. ... I consider it an opportunity. I can read up on all those hitters I am going to face next year at any level.

"The Pirates have been helpful from the first day I signed until now."

Despite all the hoopla surrounding the movie based on his life, Singh said he hasn't been distracted and has had no problem zeroing in on baseball. That's what he is here for.

"I can't even describe how excited I am," Singh said when asked about getting back on a pitcher's mound. "That is what really, really keeps me going. ... I'm already in good shape; I'm just trying to get back on track."

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