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When India hit a home run

JB Bernstein, a leading sports agent, scouted Dinesh Kumar Patel and Rinku Singh from the Indian hinterland and made them the first baseball players of India.  We quiz him on his book, Million Dollar Arm that is now a major Hollywood flick 

JB Bernstein with Dinesh Kumar Yadav (left) and Rinku SinghJB Bernstein with Dinesh Kumar Yadav (left) and Rinku Singh (right) pic courtesy/ Anthony Phills

Q. Why did India strike you as one of the unexplored territories for baseball talent; considering that hardly any one knows what the sport is.
A. In India, there is a huge pool of untapped athletic ability. There are literally over 100 million men between the ages of 15 to 25 that all grow up playing cricket, and yet the professional opportunities to capitalise on athletic talent are few compared to countries in the West where professional sports abound. We believed that due to the similarity between cricket and baseball we would be able to convert kids with that natural ability to throw a baseball.

Mad Men actor Jon Hamm stars in the Hollywood version of the book, and plays Bernstein’s role
Mad Men actor Jon Hamm stars in the Hollywood version of the book, and plays Bernstein’s role

Q. You write in the book: “Saag paneer from the Indian place, which looked equally disgusting to me, like seaweed and cottage cheese that someone had thrown up.” Several descriptions of Indian food and landscape dot the book. Do you have mixed emotions about India? What about Mumbai?
A. In reality I don’t have mixed emotions. I love all parts of India, and the people, the culture and the country have changed me at a fundamental level for the better. Sure, it is different doing business in India, but there was not a day I spent there that I did not feel lucky to be there. My best friend Karanvir Bohra and his wife Teejay Sidhu live in Mumbai, and they have shown me all the great spots. My favourite restaurant in the world is Mahesh Lunch Home in Juhu, with the Leopold Café in Colaba as a close second.

A still from the film, Million Dollar Arm
A still from the film, Million Dollar Arm

Q. What were your first impressions of Rinku and Dinesh? How did you manage to explain the game of baseball to Indians who come from the country’s hinterland and hardly have any exposure to the West?
A. My first impressions of Rinku and Dinesh were that they were hard workers who were taking this opportunity seriously. They always took the attitude that in order for them to compete with kids that had been playing baseball all their lives, they had to work harder in every aspect. But more than baseball, I took a lot of pride in their accomplishments on and off the field, to the point that I now think of them as sons in many ways.

Rinku wins the final of the reality show Million Dollar Arm book pics courtesy/simon & schuster
Rinku wins the final of the reality show Million Dollar Arm book pics courtesy/simon & schuster

Q. Is the book entirely true or some part fiction? What about the film? What liberties have been taken there?
A. I tried to be as accurate as memory allowed. The movie took a few liberties, but all the major points were as they happened. My being a fish out of water in India, the boys being a fish out of water in the USA, how I botched their first tryout, and their triumphant second tryout. Even the way I met my wife is very similar to how it happened in real life, they just moved it up a year for the movie, so that the love story could be portrayed. In the end, we are proud of both and hope that people walk away from either with the message that all things are possible and that it is never too late to change.

Dinesh in the Pirates uniform at the kickoff for Season Two of the reality show, The Million Dollar Arm, in Delhi in 2011
Dinesh in the Pirates uniform at the kickoff for Season Two of the reality show, The Million Dollar Arm, in Delhi in 2011

Million Dollar Arm, JB Bernstein, Simon & Schuster UK, R399. Available at leading bookstores
Million Dollar Arm, JB Bernstein, Simon & Schuster UK, R399. Available at leading bookstores.

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