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‘Million Dollar Arm’ details search for Indian prospects

by Dave Wiggins

Exiting the theater after viewing “Million Dollar Arm,” MAS had a strange urge to break out in song — in this case, “It’s a Small World,” the melody they play on the Disneyland kiddie ride of the same name.

Hokey, I know — but so apropos.

That tune just represented MAS’ thoughts on the recently-released flick perfectly — both from a baseball AND personal perspective.

Indulge MAS, please, while he explains.

(Spoiler Alert: MAS will be revealing the outcome of the movie — but it’s an ending you’ll be able to predict five minutes in; the journey to the finish is most important in this film.)

Million . . . figuratively proves it’s a small world because when two youngsters from India are brought to the U.S. by a Yank agent — J.B. Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm — and earn a pro baseball shot, it represents the further globalization of the grand old American game.

Baseball, obviously, has been firmly entrenched in Latin America, Canada and Asia for many years and more recently in Australia.

But baseball academies have also surfaced in many European countries and Brazil as well.

And now it is even played in a country where they dare not shoo away a cow that has wandered aimlessly onto the playing field.

It’s merely the Indian equivalent of a North American rain delay or a Beyonce-related power failure — and, anyway, isn’t the outfield portion of a ball field sometimes referred to as “the pasture”?

Maybe now those supercilious Olympic honchos will put down their cognac snifters long enough to recognize once-and-for-all baseball’s worldwide spread and appeal.

From a personal standpoint, MAS was amazed and delighted to see people in the film that he has crossed paths with in his professional life.

It added a cool personal perspective to the flick.

And in turn, the characters with whom MAS was familiar also have a connection to Japanese pro ball — and maybe you as an NPB baseball fan.

Small world angles abounded.

Stay with MAS on this as he covers the myriad coincidences.

The movie revolves around the attempt by Bernstein and his Indian-American partner (funded by a Chinese-American business mogul) to first find an Indian pitcher with MLB potential and then develop him in the U.S. for future international marketing purposes, i.e. a potential billion jersey buyers in the land of the Taj Mahal.

Bernstein’s attempt to locate such a prospect in India makes for a fascinating first half of the film.

It’s when the retired scout J.B. hires to help him spot a future Indian MLBer enters the picture that the small world bit kicks in for MAS personally — and, vicariously, maybe you the reader.

The scout’s name is Ray Poitevint, a Milwaukee Brewers bird dog whose territory included Hawaii when MAS was on TV there.

Poitevint, a friendly, jovial type, was nothing like the grouchy but funny guy Alan Arkin portrayed him as.

But that’s OK — it’s just Hollywood being Hollywood (or is it Bollywood?).

Poitevint scouted and signed University of Hawaii stars Glenn Braggs and Joey Meyer to Brewer contracts.

The pair would eventually make it to The Show for a few years.

Ray eventually steered the duo to the Yokohama Taiyo Whales/BayStars in the 1990s — longtime NPB aficionados (hello, Wayne Graczyk) will remember them.

J.B. and Ray finally find their two guys following a “Win-a-Million Dollars” reality TV tour throughout India.

The pitching coach in the U.S. to whom they then entrusted the task of developing their finds into cash cows — no pun intended — was Tom House, a former special instructor for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

House was played by Bill Paxton, who was much closer to the real deal than Arkin’s Poitevint.

A journeyman MLB hurler in his day and genuine nice-guy, House is probably most famous for catching Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in the Atlanta Braves bullpen.

It should be noted that Tom takes such fame with grace and humor. (“How else would people remember me?” a chuckling House once said to MAS)

These days, House is a noted proponent of new-age pitcher training techniques. However, with the Indian duo — Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel — House kept it very basic.

The film does a nice job of detailing the finding, development and — after many a trial and tribulation — eventual success of the pair.

Each inked a pro contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008.

However, only Rinku is still active in the Pirates minor league system and he has yet to become the MLB windfall profit-garnerer that his investors had hoped for.

Rinku made it to the high A level before injuring his pitching arm and underwent Tommy John surgery.

He is presently going through rehab but is still hopeful of being the first big thing from India, a la Fernando Valenzuela from Mexico and, of course, Japan’s Hideo Nomo.

(Raise your hand if you bought a Nomo T-shirt — MAS’s arm is proudly up).

Rinku was recently interviewed at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park during an ESPN Game of the Week and he appeared to be a most thoughtful and pleasant young man.

The film is, of course, more than a baseball story; it is also a tale of cultural adjustments that must be made — Bernstein in India and the Indian kids in the U.S.

And, of course, there’s the created-for-dramatic effect romance involving Hamm and his lady neighbor who also befriends the boys.

Yes, in the name of poetic license, Hollywood plays liberally with what REALLY happened — and admits to doing so in a disclaimer at the end-of-movie credits.

But the essence of what took place was NOT tampered with to where it ruins Million Dollar Arm’s credibility.

As per usual, the film — while presently showing worldwide — will probably not hit Japanese theaters until mid-football season (talk about your cultural adjustments!).

But when it finally arrives, it’s well worth seeing.

And who knows — maybe afterward it will leave you whistling a happy tune, if not crooning a Fantasyland classic.

Contact Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com