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From UP villages to US baseball fields

india Updated: Nov 27, 2008 02:35 IST
Anuraag Singh
Anuraag Singh
Hindustan Times
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It reads like an impossible Bollywood fantasy: a teenager who speaks no English and four years ago worked at construction sites to fund a javelin-throwing career is now worth crores of rupees in flood-lit US baseball arenas.

Except, it’s true.

Four years ago, Dinesh Patel, then 15, worked for 25 days at sites near his dusty village of Khanpur on the outskirts of the holy city of Varanasi to collect Rs 3,500 as admission fees to the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College in Lucknow.

How things change.

Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh — a sports college batchmate — created history on Monday by becoming the first Indians to sign a professional baseball contract outside the country.

Both have been signed by five-time World Series Champion club Pittsburgh Pirates for an undisclosed sum that may be in crores of rupees, their families indicated, and in doing so have sparked a remarkable interest in the hitherto unknown American sport of baseball in their backward, dusty Uttar Pradesh villages.

Patel and Singh were selected from a field of over 30,000 throwers at the Million Dollar Arm Contest in Mumbai in March 2007.

Singh, a truck driver’s son, claimed the top prize of $1,00,000 with a powerful throw. Patel threw further than Singh but fouled his throw. He was still invited for a six-month exploration in Baseball.

Patel, a former national javelin gold medalist, was brought up in a hut by his landless maternal uncle Lalji and granny Kalawati at Khanpur village. His mother and mentally challenged father couldn’t afford to raise him in their village, Chuppepur, in Varanasi.

“Handloom units across Banaras are closing,” said Lalji. “But Patel’s success has ensured my two looms will not close.” He said his inspiring tale has started a baseball mania in the village.

Patel is from the same village as Santosh Patel, who won the Rs 10 lakh top prize at the Chennai Half Marathon on August 31. Before joining the Lucknow Sports College, Dinesh trained in javelin at Bariyasanpur College, a nursery of marathoners and distance runners, including Arjuna Awardee Gulab Chand.

“Gulab Chand is passe,” said Bala Lakhendra, ex-state champion in 800 metres and Dinesh’s senior.” Dinesh is our new star.”

While villages in Varanasi, await Patel’s return to usher in a “baseball revolution” — as he’s promised to do over telephone — Singh’s village of Holepur has already started adopting baseball.

“Rinku switched from cricket to javelin before cross-over to baseball,” said his father Bramhadin Singh. “But with telephonic guidance from Rinku, youths here have already started practising.”

“He was often dubbed a loafer because he played sport,” said his mother Antaraja Devi. “Now every villager prays for a loafer like him.”