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The next day Banister watches as a Pirates coach puts six young pitchers through running drills. Singh and Patel are constantly sprinting ahead of the pack, forcing the others to pick up their pace. During breaks between laps, Singh stands ramrod erect while the others collapse onto the turf. "Damn, you're a ma-chine," gasps Michael Felix, a minor leaguer who's in his third spring training with Pittsburgh. Singh, not understanding the reference, looks away, embarrassed.
Banister is satisfied with what he's seen so far. "The fact that they have to be first, even in [running drills], tells me these guys want to compete," he says. "They know they have a long way to catch up to the others, but they're not worried about that."
IN THE evening after the grueling running drills, Singh is showing off his pool skills in the Pirate City rec room. He's already hustled a member of the clubhouse staff into believing that he didn't know the game—and promptly beat him. His thunderous break sends balls scattering. "Sometimes, I hit the white ball so hard, it flies off the table," he says, grinning. Clearly, he hasn't yet grasped all the objectives of this game.
With baseball, on the other hand, he and Patel are developing a firm command. In their hostel room they spend hours watching the great pitchers on YouTube—Randy Johnson, a USC alum whom they met briefly in L.A., is a favorite. (They've met Barry Bonds, too, but know next to nothing about A-Rod, and I had to explain the whole sorry steroids scandal to them.) I help them find the video of that Johnson pitch that obliterated a dove during a 2001 spring training game. "That's amazing," Patel says. "Add it to my favorites. I want to learn from him to do that." What, kill a bird in mid-flight? "No, I want to pitch like that."
They also instruct and test each other from a well-thumbed copy of Baseball for Dummies. "Single to the right," Patel asks. "Runners on first and third. What do you do?"
"Back up third base," Singh replies.
"Single to the left, runner on first," says Patel.
"Follow flight of the ball, then decide ... usually [back up] third."
In any sport, there's only so much you can learn from books or videos. Even Bernstein concedes that his clients have "a 12- to 14-year deficit" relative to their peers. If they were hitters, House says, they'd stand no chance of closing that gap. "But a pitcher, if you have a good delivery, you can learn to strike people out pretty quickly," he says. The Pirates will likely keep Singh and Patel in extended spring training, get them into the Rookie Gulf Coast League and give them lots of short bursts as relief pitchers—at this point, frequency is more important than duration. If the Pirates stick to this plan, House reckons, "there's a 75-25 chance they'll acquire the experience they need within a year."
Do Singh and Patel have a realistic shot at the majors? It's a long shot, and they're smart enough to set realistic goals—for now. Patel says the low A squad may be within their reach this summer; Singh thinks high A is feasible. But that's still months away. For now, these two farm boys from Uttar Pradesh are content to push themselves harder and harder at Pirate City. "Learning, learning, learning ... all the time," Singh says. "We don't want to go out, don't want to do anything else."