India's first two professional baseball players make a passage to Pennsylvania.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Dec. 4 2008 12:45 PM

The Mound Is Flat

India's first two professional baseball players make a passage to Pennsylvania.

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Their biggest laughs come at our expense. Watching so many commercials for Viagra, restless leg syndrome, and smoothie makers leads Singh to conclude that in America, "There's a pill and a machine for everything." When he visits the emergency room after cutting his fingers with a kitchen knife, Singh can't believe it costs $300 for Band-Aids and a tetanus shot that would have cost 20 rupees back home. Seeing the stack of hospital paperwork they had to fill out, he says, "We laughed our guts out."

After signing with the Pirates, Singh and Patel found Pittsburgh on Google and declared it a very good city. Bucs General Manager Neal Huntington doesn't expect India to be the next Dominican Republic or the signing to produce a billion new Pirate fans overnight. For now, Indian sports fans are consumed with the more pressing question of if any English cricketers will use the Mumbai attacks as an excuse to wimp out of this month's Test Series in India.

But the Pirates' surprise move seems to have charmed the team's dwindling fan base in Pittsburgh. In an online Post-Gazette poll, fans overwhelmingly viewed the signing as "innovative" or "desperate"; only 18 percent considered it "insane"—a record low for the Pirate front office. One Bucs blogger, Honest Wagner, called it a "brilliant move" and proclaimed "Rinkumania." At Bucs Dugout, another wrote, "I love these guys." A fan at Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? declared, "After reading their blog I've moved from bemusement to unadulterated adoration."

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Last week's attacks in Mumbai made Singh and Patel reflect on the contrast between the unreality of their current quest and the harsh realities back home. "Thanks to God that our families are very far from where the killings are, but still as Indian men we feel very bad," they wrote. "If not for contest we would be in India, and maybe in Army right now fighting terrorist in Mumbai."

Their javelin coach in Lucknow, India, says the two athletes miss Indian food and their friends from school. But he insists that it's worth braving the culture gap, enduring the media scrutiny, and learning English by watching SportsCenter. "To achieve something," he says, "you have to make some sacrifices." For their sake, let's hope it's possible to learn baseball by watching the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at thehasbeen@gmail.com. Read his disclosure here.

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