Indian baseball player reveals his unlikely path to Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league team

(CBS News) The baseball playoffs begin Tuesday night and the Pittsburgh Pirates are finally in. Until this year, the Pirates had 20 straight losing seasons, the longest streak in American professional sports. But the team is trying to build a winning future. Recently, CBS News' Mark Strassmann took a look at one of their most unusual prospects.

Rinku Singh has an all-American dream: to play in the major leagues one day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But how he got this far is one of the most improbable stories in baseball.

JB Bernstein is a sports marketing agent with marquee clients like Barry Bonds and Barry Sanders. In 2008, he created a reality show about baseball called "Million Dollar Arm." Bernstein said, "This idea was definitely outside the box. ... The goal was to find somebody with the raw talents to be able play to come back to the United States as the first Indian baseball player."

The show was in India, home to 1.3 billion people. Problem was, few of them had ever heard of baseball. Think of "American Idol" if the contestants had never heard singing. Bernstein said, "So we put baseballs in kids' hands and took radar guns out there to prove I guess one of the oldest adages in sports, which is: Give me a kid who can throw real hard and I can teach him everything else."

In 2008, 37,000 Indians tried out in four major cities. Bernstein said, "With that many people, you get a pretty crazy cast coming through. So many balls were gone into the street. Wide, left, high, and so yeah, you saw a lot of wild pitching."

Then comes the big moment everyone was waiting for: Rinku Singh, a tall left-handed javelin-thrower, only looked crazy. Bernstein said, "He got up there in this pose like a flamingo and stood there for almost 40 seconds before -- just holding the ball. In a million years, you never would have expected him to throw that hard."

Singh won the show and $100,000. He became the richest man in his small village.

So what did he know about baseball in the beginning? Singh said, "I had no clue. No clue. What's a strike? What's a ball? This is all, like, different kind of stuff. It's just brand-new."

He flew to Los Angeles, where he had to learn English, American culture, and baseball. Singh recalled, "I had no idea where I was going to put my feet. Instead of putting them here (on the mound) I was standing anywhere."

But the Pirates liked his raw talent, and signed him to a minor league contract in 2009. Pitching coach Miguel Bonilla said of Singh's training, "(We did not) try to do too much. Keep everything simple. But it was very good because he was smart. He learned quick. And he wanted to grow up."

In 2009, Singh became the first Indian to appear in a minor league game, and the first Indian pitcher to win one. Every season, he has improved and often excelled. Singh's fastball is major-league fast: 92 miles per hour. He's also baseball-savvy enough to know this: most minor leaguers never make the big club. Singh said, "If I continue to do what I'm doing right now, just believing in myself, believing in my work ethic, believing where I'm going from, it's gonna happen one day."

Singh's success has opened the eyes of Major League Baseball, which is now actively scouting in India.

Watch Mark Strassmann's full report above.

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