Baseball dream ends but 23-yr-old Varanasi youth returns a winner
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So what if he wakes up every morning now on a charpoy in Khanpur village of Varanasi? Patel, picked through a baseball talent hunt, Million Dollar Arm in 2008, and "off-loaded" two years later, says he will always cherish the experience.
These days, Patel is busy with his school intermediate exams. Having dropped out of school when he got picked through the talent hunt, he hopes to complete it now.
Patel was selected along with javelin thrower Rinku Singh from 37,000 participants (he was runner-up to Singh), for his speed and accuracy in pitching ball, and taken to Florida. He played as a pitcher for Pittsburgh Pirates for a season. "The Pittsburgh guys were kind to us. Both Rinku and I were given the same room so we'd be comfortable," he says.
The high point for Patel was meeting the US President. "I will always cherish that moment when, as (the talent hunt) winners from India and because of our performance in baseball, Rinku and I were invited to meet Obama at the White House. He said, 'well done, keep it up'," recalls Patel, with visible delight. Later, they got to meet Ronaldinho.
Another sporting giant they met was Barry Bonds, a legendary batter who played for Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. "When we signed the contract, we went to Haldirams in the US and told them we wanted to throw a party for about 40 people. They told us they would supply good Indian food free of cost. We were very happy when even Bonds turned up," Patel says.
Back home now, Patel is keeping open the option of returning to javelin, a sport he once played. "I had even won a gold at the National School Games at Pune in 2006 in javelin throw," he says.
The money he earned from baseball has already changed his life forever. "We are two brothers and one sister. With my parents facing difficulty due to poverty, I was brought up by my uncle. It was only when my elder brother, Rajesh (26), got a job some years ago that things started improving. With my income from baseball, I could bear the expenses incurred on my sister Anita's (20) wedding about two years ago, although I could not come to India for it," Patel says.
Their house in Chuppepur is now a concrete structure with six rooms, while Patel owns a plot of land in Khanpur where he plans to get a house constructed for himself.
Eventually, Patel hopes, he can find a government job.
Ironically, baseball itself is likely to remain a happy memory. "There's no scope for baseball in India, so I've stopped practising. I'm practising javelin throw seriously. I participated at the national athletics championship in Kolkata last year and now I'm preparing for Federation Cup athletics championship in April. With five hours of practice daily, I am confident of winning medals in javelin throw again," he says.
One way he can stay in touch with baseball is through teaching. He taught schoolchildren baseball in Delhi for two days and last year, he helped his village boys prepare for the second season of the Million Dollar Arm talent hunt for about two months. He didn't charge any money. "But this was because I feel emotionally attached to the organisers of the event," Patel says.
Sometimes, he does think of what could have been had he had a longer stint in baseball. "The 2009 season was good, but without any prior experience, 2010 was not that successful and I was released and returned to India. I couldn't perform as well as I wanted to but that was because baseball was a totally new game for me."
However, Patel is content. "The sport gave me a lot of name and fame... Whatever happens, happens for the best," he says. "Being with my family also gives me a great deal of satisfaction."