The origins

The Idea:

It all started on one fine morning in the summer of 1998.

Will Chang, a successful businessman and sports enthusiast, had grown frustrated. Despite rigorous training, he had not been able to beat his best time in the San Francisco Marathon. In fact, in his most recent attempt, he had worn himself out by mile five. Much to his chagrin, of course.

But this dismay sparked Will’s curiosity. Why, for all his dedication and focus, was he seemingly unable to reach his performance goals? Was each athlete simply beholden to an individual, unsurpassable plateau? And are some born with an innate talent that allows them to perform beyond what their training would suggest?

Will began contemplating the nature of athletic ability and its portability across activities. He theorized that an innate talent in one sport indicates the presence of a certain set of abilities, and those abilities would allow that athlete to have a preternatural talent in any other sport that utilizes the same skills.

The Idea (cont)

Will discussed his idea with his friend and business partner Ash Vasudevan. They began developing the idea and decided to test the theory by going to India to find a baseball pitcher. Unbeknown’s to them. J.B. Bernstein, founder-CEO of Access Group, a sports marketing and athlete representation firm, and a pioneer in sports marketing—JB has developed over 250 products and programs such as Wayne Gretzky’s 802nd Goal Program and Dan Marino’s all time Touch Down Record—was also brainstorming about finding the next big sports talent from Asia to play professional sports in N. America.

Together, JB, Ash and Will decided to launch The Million Dollar Arm Show in India.

The Hunt Begins

12 cities. Over 35000 participants. 28 finalists.

Indeed, India had what they needed. A population of 1.2 billion offered a deep pool of candidates. And that many of them were already cricket fanatics provided an easier segue – from a game with a flat pitching surface to a game with a mound. The ubiquity of cricket also suggested a pool of young men who might possess the eye-hand coordination and strength Will, J.B. and Ash were looking for. Potentially – with any luck – one of these young men would prove he could translate natural ability to pitching at the Major League level.

This search for talent became the Million Dollar Arm competition and reality TV show. Though their colleagues in the sports world dismissed the endeavor as foolish, the threesome believed the risk would be worth the reward and went forward with their plan to bring baseball – and the first ever sports talent hunt – to India. Along with baseball scout Ray Potevint, they toured twelve Indian cities and saw more than 35,000 young men that first year.

Beating out 26 other finalists, Rinku Singh, just eighteen years old at the time, was named the winner after displaying a top speed of 89 mph. His win earned him a life-changing $100,000, and a shot at $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes at 90 mph. Second place went to Dinesh Patel, also eighteen years old, whose fastest pitch reached 87 mph.

Making History

Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Rinku and Dinesh

Their wins kicked off a whirlwind adventure, as Rinku and Dinesh then traveled to Los Angeles to train with legendary USC pitching coach Tom House, widely known as the Professor for his cerebral approach. Though he was skeptical at first, Tom soon realized that the boys’ lack of previous experience was, with the right attitude, an asset. Tom could teach them new skills without fighting against existing bad habits.

For six months, Rinku and Dinesh lived on pitching drills and physical training, absorbing everything they could about baseball. And on November 5, 2008, the same day that Barack Obama was elected as the first African American President, Rinku and Dinesh made their own history when they impressed a crowd of professional baseball scouts and signed contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates ball club. Two teenagers who had scarcely heard of the sport of baseball six months earlier became the first Indian professional athletes to ever sign in the USA.

Their inspirational story is now the basis for the Walt Disney movie about the first baseball players to emerge from India. Starring Jon Hamm, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Pitobash Tripathy, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Madhur Mittal, the movie is slated to be released on May 16, 2014.

It is indeed a strange irony that three baseball fans from San Francisco launched a venture in July 2006 that led to the discovery of India’s first professional baseball pitchers, who were signed two years later by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the very team that beat the Giants the day the initial idea was conceived.

© 2013 Seven Figure Management, llc.