"Million Dollar Arm," Disney's newest offering starring "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm, hits theaters Friday and tells the improbable but surprisingly true story of the search for India's first Major League Baseball pitcher.
In the movie, Hamm stars as real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who once had some of the highest-paid clients in professional sports, including baseball home run king Barry Bonds and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith.
The storyline picks up in 2007 when those stars, and others, retire, leaving Bernstein desperate to find new talent to represent. In an out-of-the-country idea, Bernstein set up a contest in India among its best cricket players to compete as baseball pitchers. The movie centers on the struggles, hilarity, and success that result from that experiment.
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The tale of real-life Pittsburgh Pirates signees Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh is right in Disney's wheelhouse. Producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray are also responsible for other true stories-turned-films like "The Rookie," about a baseball coach who becomes a Major League pitcher past his prime, and "Miracle," about the 1980 gold-medal winning USA hockey team.
"'The Rookie' and 'Miracle,' those movies are both in the canon of sports movies," Hamm told the Miami Herald during a recent press day
. "They have the ability to make these stories where you can veer into sentimentality, but they always strike the right balance. They really do tell a hell of a story, and this was no exception. The script had a wonderful balance of heart and inspiration — and it's a true story that's just amazing."
The real-life Bernstein told the New York Post he turned his contest
into an Indian reality TV show that he hoped would leave him with a future professional baseball star.
"I subscribe to the philosophy that [former NBA player] Yao Ming is the way to build popularity of a sport in a country," Bernstein told the newspaper. "You find a guy from a country that hasn't had many U.S. sports success stories, and you bring that guy over, and [the people back home] start to follow him. All of a sudden the broadcasting and jersey sales start to hit."
Bernstein told the Post that roughly 38,000 Indian cricket players tried out for the $100,000 prize and a shot at the Major Leagues. He told the Post the Indian reality show is now in its third season and he expects some 500,000 participants.
"Million Dollar Arm" hits theaters Friday.
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