Million Dollar Arm
Their crisp white Million Dollar Arm uniforms gleaming in the bright Arizona sun, Rinku and Dinesh took the field. They had spent the last hour warming up inside the training facility, throwing 90-mile-per-hour fastballs that hit the catcher’s mitt with lots of mustard and a satisfying pop. They were locked in and ready to go. About to face a crowd of pro scouts, the two were far from finished projects, but to look at them, you’d never guess that just a year before, they had never touched a baseball. Hell, a year ago, they didn’t even know what a baseball was.
These two guys, who hailed from the kind of small, rural Indian villages where many people didn’t have indoor plumbing, running electricity, or opportunities for work, found themselves in Tempe that early-November morning to compete for a spot in the bigs. The experiment began a year earlier with a zany idea to canvass India, where baseball is virtually unknown, in search of raw pitching talent. Rinku and Dinesh were the winners of the nationwide contest and reality TV show. Now they were trying to make history as the first natives of India to become pro athletes in the United States.
The training facility where we were holding the tryout, housed in an ordinary office park adjacent to a strip mall, didn’t exactly look like the stuff of Cooperstown. But it was one of the top facilities in Arizona. Several office suites had been combined to create a beautiful, modern space with cold tubs for ice baths, workout equipment, an indoor pitching mound, and the like. Out the back door and across a parking lot was a strip of Astroturf with a pitching mound and pitching cage specifically designed for pitchers and hitters to train.
Behind home plate stood thirty stony-faced scouts. It was unbelievable, even surreal, how many scouts had turned out to see if Rinku and Dinesh could throw. These travel-hardened vets of the sport, who will look under any and every rock for the next megastar, couldn’t stay away from our tryout, no matter how ridiculous a long shot it was.
The scouts weren’t the only ones eager to discover whether baseball can be learned well enough in a year to play in the pros. A huge crowd of media—including ESPN, USA Today, and local reporters and TV crews—had assembled, which was very atypical. No one ever covers baseball tryouts. Even a crazy, once-in-a-generation high school recruit is a tough sell to an editor. But two guys who, if they didn’t do the impossible and land a spot on a baseball team, would be sent back to a life of hardship, at least by American standards? Well, that was newsworthy. Rinku’s and Dinesh’s
tryout had all the melodrama and nail-biting potential heartbreak that make for an irresistible sports story.
When the time came to bring out Rinku and Dinesh, their pitching had been great, which wasn’t always the case. While both had big-league potential, their lightning-quick education meant that their deliveries could be erratic. Some days were good, some days not so much. We wanted them to warm up inside so that they would come out looking sharp. And, thank God, today their mechanics were laser-focused.
When Rinku; Dinesh; their pitching coach, Tom House; talent scout and trainer Ray Poitevint; my business partners Ash Vasudevan and Will Chang; and I walked out of the building in one badass line, it was like a scene from Reservoir Dogs. (Well, maybe more like the scene from Swingers where they imitate Reservoir Dogs.) As Coach House started to introduce the boys, smiling and thanking everyone for coming out to see this miracle of baseball, our mini-entourage was buzzing with nerves. I was so pumped; I couldn’t wait for them to get out on the mound. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Rinku and Dinesh were going to nail this thing.
Dinesh was up first. The scouts, three deep, jostled one another and shoved their radar guns into place. (Scouts all bring their own guns, since they don’t trust anyone.) Dozens of barrels pointed at Dinesh as he trotted out to the mound.
I’d never been more excited about anything in my life—and as a pro sports agent who had been in the business for more than twenty years, it took a lot to get me excited. I had seen and done just about everything: driven expensive cars, flown on private jets, partied at the hottest nightclubs, dated the prettiest girls, and watched the Super Bowl from the sidelines. But this was different. If Rinku and Dinesh showed the scouts the best they could do, it would change the courses of their lives and their families’ lives forever. It would also vindicate me after most of the sports community told me I was an idiot when I first came up with the idea.
I felt great. Success was assured. There wasn’t a hint that anything could go wrong—until someone pulled back the tarp that had been covering the mound. Suddenly, like a train wreck unfurling in slow motion, the entire situation went south. The mound, sandy, crumbling, and uneven, was totally messed up.
“Coach, mound no good,” Dinesh said.
The scouts, their guns raised in the air, waited. There was no time.
“You gotta go,” Coach House whispered loudly. “Just go!”
And just like when the guys left their villages back in India for a foreign land and a crazy dream, Dinesh took a major-league leap of faith, stepped up to the mound, and wound up for his first pitch.