CHARLESTON, W. Va. (KDKA) — On any given game day at Appalachian Power Park, home to the West Virginia Power, the Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there in the outfield, shagging fly balls is 23-year-old Rinku Singh.
“Every time I walk out in the field,” Singh says, “it feels like I belong here like I’ve been playing baseball here my whole life.”
Only he hasn’t played baseball his whole life. In fact, up until four years ago the word “baseball” had never entered his vocabulary.
“I’d never ever heard of what baseball is,” he says. “Never even seen it on TV. Never heard of baseball.”
That’s because Rinku grew up in rural India.
“Hard life,” he describes it. “Yeah, you can say that.”
The son of a truck driver, Rinku was a standout javelin thrower when a TV show changed his life forever.
“My javelin coach told me there’s a TV reality show called ‘Million Dollar Arm’,” Rinku remembers. “He said, ‘Why don’t you try out?’
“I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go hurt myself.’
“He said, ‘No just go and try.'”
Singh became a baseball player and won. He didn’t take home a million dollars, but did get $100,000 and a trip to America.
Along with runner up Dinesh Patel, the two worked out in front of pro baseball scouts. But only one team came calling – the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many thought it was a joke.
“Yeah, to be honest, it was not real well received,” says Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington. “It was a publicity stunt, or it’s a marketing ploy. This opportunity came and we wanted to be the first organization to sign somebody out of India.”
Unable to speak English and unaware what a strikeout was, Rinku studied the game of baseball every minute of every day.
“That first time I had a strikeout,” he remembers, “I really couldn’t believe how much I was happy. People talk about strikeouts, I’m watching it on TV.”
“I’m impressed,” says his pitching coach in West Virginia Willie Glen. “To have only picked up a baseball four years ago, he’s come a long way pretty quickly.”
“To have no baseball at all,” he says, “to where he’s able to compete at Low-A level, and some scouts say he has a chance, is fascinating.”
As he pursues his newfound dream, halfway around the world from his home, Rinku hasn’t seen his parents in years.
“Mom and Dad have no idea what I’m doing here,” Rinku says. “No idea. Every time I talk to them all they just say: ‘Do not forget what you’re there for and where you’re coming from. Do not forget that.’”
So could this former javelin thrower from India one day play at PNC Park?
“We weren’t sure they were ever gonna make it to play baseball under the lights, let alone make it to the major leagues,” Huntington says, “and Rinku has made it under the lights. He’s having success. It’s a great story and it’s gonna be a lot of fun to see how far he can take it.”
“He’s into the realm of baseball stuff,” Glen says. “He’s got that down. He’s on his way somewhere.”
“I don’t know about the future,” Rinku says, “but I think if I’m gonna keep working hard at what I’m doing now, it’s not gonna take long time to get there. It’s all about work ethic and I believe in it.”