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The Pursuit and Advancement of Indian Baseball

The history of baseball in India may not be extensive, though cricket has long been entrenched as its most widespread sport. What is the difference between cricket and baseball? What are Major League Baseball's plans to spread baseball in India? Read on as we discuss India as the ensuing market for baseball's growth.

Baseball in India

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel – The first Indians to professional baseball – Credit: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-milllion-dollar-athletes-20140515-story.html

The origin of baseball in India dates back to December 1983 when the Amateur Baseball Federation of India was organized. Players throughout India from Delhi, Manjpur, Haryana, and West Bengal formed the federation to promote baseball throughout India. On September 16, 1984, a committee held a conference to present the prospective league’s rules, where they discussed the league’s first National Championship to promote baseball in India. The 1st National Championship was held the following year, which took place in Delhi from February 25 to February 28, 1985.

Since the formation of the Amateur Baseball Federation, the Indian National Team has had international success. The Indian National Team won the bronze medal in the 1995 Asia Cup Series, a silver medal at the 1999 Asian Baseball Cup, and a bronze medal at the 2019 Asian Cup Series. The Asian Baseball Cup is a level beneath the Asian Baseball Championship, where every other year, the top two teams from the Asian Cup Series join the Asian Baseball Championship, which is the leading baseball tournament in Asia.

Origin of Cricket

Eden Gardens
Eden Gardens (often called “The Home of Indian Cricket”, first established in 1864)

Cricket is currently the national sport of India, where it is the most beloved and respected. The first documented cricket match in India took place in 1721 when a group of English sailors from the East India Trading Company played a match in Kutch, located in western India. In 1792, the Calcutta Cricket Club was established, the second oldest cricket club after the renowned Manhattan Cricket Club.

Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, also known as Prince Ranjitsinhji is known as the Father of Indian cricket. Ranjitsinhji was one of the world’s greatest cricket players, who later became ruler of Nawanagar from 1907 until he passed in 1933.

Cricket is part of the culture in India, where the sport brings families and communities together. Indian cricket, particularly the Indian Premier League, has received wider coverage over the years, where India has continued to implement league expansions and various ways to place wagers on matches.

Cricket versus Baseball

Virat Kohli & Mike Trout
The biggest players in each respective game – Virat Kohli on the left and Mike Trout on the right

While the most prominent sport in India is cricket, the sport doesn’t differ significantly from baseball. A baseball bat features a rounded appearance, with a tapered bottom, whereas a cricket bat features a flat base. The properties of a baseball feature a cork or rubber center, or sometimes a combination of the two, but a kookaburra, or cricket ball, also highlights a cork center. 

A baseball must weigh between 5 oz and 5.25 oz. and a kookaburra is required to weigh within 5.5 and 5.75 oz. The pitcher’s mound in baseball is 60 feet from home plate, and in cricket, the distance between the bowler and batsman is 66 feet. The game of baseball features nine players, and a cricket team fields 11 players. An Indian Premier League match lasts roughly 3 hours, which is equivalent to a MLB game.

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm
Million Dollar Arm went on to become a Hollywood film starring Jon Hamm

Million Dollar Arm was a televised pitching contest in India organized by Los Angeles based sports agent J.B. Bernstein seeking major league talent in India. J.B. Bernstein was a prominent sports agent who represented Barry Sanders and Barry Bonds. The competition featured over 37,000 participants to see who could throw over 90 mph. Both Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, the winner and runner-up of Million Dollar Arm, never heard of baseball before the competition but were professional javelin throwers and amateur cricket players. 

Dinesh Patel

Dinesh Patel
Dinesh Patel signed for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Born May 8, 1989, in Lucknow City, India, Dinesh Patel is an accomplished athlete. He took up javelin throwing at the age of 14 and took home a gold medal for field hockey School Games Federation of India in 2006.

Dinesh Patel was the runner up on Million Dollar Arm, where the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him on June 23, 2009. The 18-year-old went on to pitch 13.2 innings in relief for the Gulf Coast League Pirates, where he posted a 5.27 ERA and 1.61 WHIP over 15 games. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates released Patel on November 19, 2010, where he returned to Uttar Pradesh to coach Indian youth baseball players. Patel also continued practicing javelin throwing, where he competed in the National Athletics Championships in Kolkata in 2011 and Federation Cup Athletics Championship in 2012.

Rinku Singh

Rinku Singh
Rinku Singh went on to become a WWE wrestler

Rinku Singh was born on August 8, 1988, in Lucknow, India. The 19-year old won the Million Dollar Arm competition and earned $100,000 for his talents of hurling a baseball. He later signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $8,000. Rinku appeared in 85 games in his minor league baseball career, where he posted a 10-6 record with a 2.97 ERA and 1.25 WHIP while striking out 126 batters over 148.1 innings.

Unfortunately, Singh suffered a torn ligament in his pitching elbow in 2013, which required Tommy John Surgery. Singh wouldn’t pitch again until 2016. Singh would give up baseball in 2016 due to elbow issues, although he was soon encouraged to participate in a four-day tryout in Dubai for the WWE in April 2017. He went on to sign a contract with the WWE in January 2018. When Singh played for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he was 6’4″ and weighed 195 lbs. Since then, Singh bulked up and currently weighs 255 lbs. Singh made his television debut in the WWE on March 25, 2020.

What are Major League Baseball’s Plans in India?

Cricketer Mohammed Kaif was the guest at the launch of MLB's office in New Delhi
Cricketer Mohammed Kaif was the guest at the launch of MLB’s office in New Delhi

The next locality Major League Baseball intends to expand the game of baseball is in India. MLB’s goal is to make baseball an Indian sport, where each game is played, coached, and umpired by Indians. The league is already working on broadening the media footprint, where games will be broadcasted on Facebook. Major League Baseball also intends to initiate school programs and open academies to grow the sport’s popularity and work closely with the National Baseball Federation of India to build a strong national team.

MLB took measures to develop baseball in India, where the league opened its 6th international office in New Delhi, India, on July 2, 2019. Through Major League Baseball’s First Pitch program, which is tasked with fostering the game while heightening fan engagement, the league has already reached over 30,000 youth athletes between the ages of 8 and 14 through 320 workshops in India. Besides expanding the sport by competing in games, MLB intends to grow the fantasy sports market to India for people to become connected with baseball in a unique and exciting way, as cricket has already accomplished.

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1 COMMENT

  1. There’s great news and hoping to see more Indian born players competing at the professional level. If MLB do some serious scouting, the sky will be the limit because India is a country of about 1.4 billion people and their national sport is Cricket who’s in a way is very similar to baseball.

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