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Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Indians win US baseball contract

Dinesh Patel (L) and Rinku Singh
Dinesh Patel (L) and Rinku Singh were born in small towns in India

Two Indians have signed to play with a US Major League baseball team after winning a talent contest for pitching.

The professional contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates is the first for any Indian nationals.

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, both 20, had thrown the javelin but had not picked up a baseball - a game not played in India - until this year.

They won a TV show that sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 134km/h (85mph) or faster.

Hailing from small towns in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the pair topped the pitching talent show sponsored by a California-based sports management company.

The Pirates signed them up on Monday.

The team's general manager, Neal Huntington, told the Associated Press news agency that by signing up the two Indians the team hoped to "open a pathway to an untapped market".

"We are intrigued by Patel's arm strength and Singh's frame and potential," he said.

'Raw talent'

Neither of the two men have pitched in a game situation and their experience has been limited to practice matches against junior college teams since they arrived in the US six months ago.

Rinku Singh
Singh's "frame and potential" impressed the Pirates

Singh, who was born in Bhadaini in Uttar Pradesh, is the youngest of nine children. Patel is from the holy city of Varanasi and has four siblings.

Reports say that Patel has hit 145km/h on the radar gun during practice and Singh 135km/h.

"They are very raw. But I think this has a huge upside," said pitching coach Tom House, who has trained them since May.

Agent Jeff Borris, who has signed the two men, believes that they will need three to four years of minor league experience to get ready for the Majors.

Patel and Singh are learning English, picked up from TV baseball shows and by taking online classes, reports say.

"These young men have improved a tremendous amount in their six-month exposure to baseball and we look forward to helping them to continue to fulfil their promise," Mr Huntington said.

India is best known as the financial powerhouse of cricket, with football and hockey other relatively popular games.

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