'Million Dollar Arm' brings back memories for Padres' Ian Kennedy
Forget two thumbs up. Clearly, the next, great Hollywood baseball movie, out next weekend, deserves six thumbs up. Or seven.
Million Dollar Arm is the story of how myself and five other baseball columnists gracefully and artfully acted our way through three or four different background scenes, earning unbelievably rave reviews. And by the time of next year's Academy Awards, I'm going to have to figure out how to explain to Jon Hamm how I went from my underdog role to stealing the Best Actor Oscar right out from under his Don Draper nose.
Oh, wait. Actually, that's not quite the film's plot.
Million Dollar Arm is the story of how a sports agent named JB Bernstein devised a wildly popular American Idol-like contest in India, a country of 1.23 billion people, and took the two winners back to the USA, taught them to become pitchers and then got them signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rinku Singh, 25, is recovering from Tommy John surgery (see, he did turn into a real baseball player, sheesh) and is still in the Pirates' system (though he has not pitched above Class A ball). Dinesh Patel was released by the Pirates. But the experience - spoiler alert! - changed and enriched both of their lives to an incredible degree.
In talking Hollywood's treatment of baseball in the Padres' clubhouse over the past several days - we'll get to several of their favorites in a moment - starting pitcher Ian Kennedy immediately lit up at the mention of Rinku, Dinesh, and Million Dollar Arm.
Turns out, during the winter of 2008-2009, when the two Indian athletes were working with former big league pitcher Tom House at the University of Southern California preparing for their major league tryout, Kennedy, Anthony Reyes, Cole Hamels and a handful of other major leaguers were working out at USC at the same time.
Kennedy, who had pitched for the Trojans, was there nearly every day that winter because his wife, Allison, was finishing graduate school at USC at the time.
"That's when they did the whole thing and brought Rinku and Dinesh," Kennedy said. "We heard all about this. We heard they were javelin throwers and were trying to figure it out.
"You could actually see the progression from the beginning to when they went to go sign and play with the Pirates. You could definitely tell they had gotten a lot better."
Part of that was because they went through workouts with the big leaguers.
"They still didn't have the baseball sense," Kennedy said. "Like right before spring training, we were doing the PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] stuff. I didn't feel like doing it, and Tom House told me, 'Hey, I know you don't want to do this.' I was like, 'Tom, I take enough ground balls during spring training.' He said, 'No, do this for them. They donât know baseball. Pickoffs, and all that stuff.'
"So I was like, 'All right.' And we helped them out."
What helped, Kennedy said, is that Rinku and Dinesh were "really nice kids. Unbelievably nice."
In the final days before everyone left for spring training, the two kids invited everyone over to their house for a sort of thank-you and farewell dinner. Kennedy took his wife, because, among other things, she had heard him talk about the two Indian kids so much over the winter and he wanted her to meeet them.
"That was the first time I had Indian food," Kennedy said. "It was at their house right on campus. It was a really, unbelievably nice house in that area. It was old but you could tell, it was pretty nice. I think it's like a historical mark in that area."
So they all went their separate ways ... and then the next spring, the Yankees sent Kennedy to the minors to stretch him out, and he was making a start against the Pirates' minor leaguers in Bradenton, Fla., when ... wouldn't you know it. He randomly bumped into his old workout buddies at the Pirates' complex.
"I was going to a game and I was like, 'Hey! What's up guys?'" Kennedy said, chuckling at the memory. "Everything they say, it's 'Sir' at the end of it.
"And one of them said, 'Aw, my arm is tired, sir.' I said, 'It's spring training, what the heck?' And he said, 'I know, tell me about it!'"
Kennedy figures he will see the movie, though because he knows so much about the winter preparation of Rinku and Dinesh, he's worried that they will "Hollywood up" part of the story.
"But I'm curious to see it," Kennedy said.
How could he not be? It's baseball, it's the silver screen ... and it's one winter of his life.
Scott Miller, among other baseball writers, takes a picture with Suraj Sharma, one of the stars of Million Dollar Arm, in Atlanta during filming of the movie.
Now, as promised, let's go around the horn as a handful of Padres (and two certain broadcaters) tag their favorite baseball movies:
YASMANI GRANDAL: Bull Durham. "The connection to being a catcher, and a struggling older guy trying to get to the big leagues. I'm young, but you still relate. It could happen to anyone."
DICK ENBERG: Field of Dreams. "I've seen it seven times, and I've cried seven times. My wife always says when we watch it, 'You're not going to cry THIS time are you?' And I tell her, 'It's about me and my dad.'"
NICK HUNDLEY: The Sandlot. "Easy. The whole premise. Kids just playing and enjoying being kids. Throw in some good acting and good storylines. ... I've probably seen it 20 times. Anytime it's on, I'll watch a little bit of it."
YONDER ALONSO: Major League. "One of the first movies I ever saw when I got to the States. I didn't understand the language then, but as I started to, I started to get it. I was in awe and wanted to be in the big leagues. As I got older, and with my language being better, I started to see it more and figured out how funny it is."
NICK VINCENT: Major League. "It's more like minor-league baseball, but the way the clubhouse is portrayed, it's like baseball really is."
WILL VENABLE: Major League. "There are so many funny parts. The one thing that sticks in my mind, all baseball movies, especially if you're a baseball player, are unrealistic. But I thought they did a decent job, and when they were making their playoff push and the catcher says, 'There's only one thing left to do, win the whole bleeping thing', that's one of my favorite parts."
SETH SMITH: The Natural. "It's just one of the first movies I watched and remember. I read the book, and my dad and I watched it. No gimmicks, just a good baseball movie."
HUSTON STREET: Field of Dreams. "The positive message. The nostalgia. The father-son element. The commitment it showed throughout the movie. The authenticity. The whole feel of the movie. It's passion. Some movies are about ideas. This is so deeply rooted. There are so many great baseball movies, and Kevin Costner is in a lot of them, which is awesome."
XAVIER NADY: Major League. "That's a tough one. Everyone is going to say Bull Durham, and when I was younger it was Field of Dreams."
CHRIS DENORFIA: Major League. "That's an easy one. I think it's a pretty hilarious movie. The baseball is respectable enough that it's not a complete farce. Did you know they never show Willie Mays Hayes throw a baseball? I guess in real life he can't throw."
MARK GRANT: Pride of the Yankees. "It's one of the first baseball movies my dad said, 'Hey, this is one you should watch.' That's when I did a little homework and did my Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Yankees history. Babe Ruth played himself."
CHASE HEADLEY: The Natural. "Roy Hobbs. Great movie. Pure baseball movie."
IAN KENNEDY: The Sandlot. "It was just like me as a kid. Go to a field and find some buddies to play with. Now, it's a job and you watch it, and it's about kids having fun."
BUD BLACK: Rookie of the Year. "I was running in the outfield in a scene. It's a helicopter shot, and I was running with Dave Righetti. Or it might have been John Burkett. But there are a lot of great baseball movies. Pride of the Yankees is a good movie. Bang the Drum Slowly. Of the modern movies, I like Major League. For the Love of the Game. I like 'em all. The Sandlot."
Longtime national columnist Scott Miller will be a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com, discussing the San Diego Padres and Major League Baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter at @ScottMillerBbl.