By RON FANFAIR
When you strike out 18 straight seasons making you the franchise with the longest losing streak in North American professional sport, it’s about time you expand your search for talent.
In November 2008, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh made history, becoming the first Indian-born players to be signed by an American professional sports franchise.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, which last made the playoffs in 1992, inked Singh – a former javelin thrower and cricketer who won an Indian TV reality show, “Million Dollar Arm,” in which scouts sought to discover prospective pitchers with strong throwing arms – and Patel who was the runner-up, to minor league contracts.
Last November, the club – which won a league-low 57 games in 2010 – released Singh and two Taiwanese prospects signed out of high school. At around the same time, Jamaican-born Canadian resident Leon Taylor was awarded a one-year contract with the Pirates to scout talent in Jamaica.
He has been with the organization since 1999 as an associate scout after having being an international scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers the previous eight years.
Taylor said the Pirates director of Latin American scouting, Rene Gayo, recommended him for the position.
“He came down there last year and was quite impressed by what he saw,” said Taylor who scouted Jamaican talent for the Dodgers. “He figured the youths needed some support and proper guidance and I was assigned to provide that…I have been working here for the past few years so I am quite familiar with the landscape. I am excited by the prospect of being given this opportunity to unearth baseball talent in Jamaica. It’s quite a challenge, but at the same time there is a lot of potential that I have seen.”
Taylor is collaborating with the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport to set up a baseball academy by the end of next month. Opened in 1980, the college trains specialist teachers in physical education and sport.
“The plan is to get about 15 youngsters in there once a week for a few hours during the school year and then bring them in four weeks in the summer for extensive training,” he said.
Taylor added that Baseball Canada’s manager of baseball operations, Andre Lachance, will be in Jamaica in May to run clinics for teachers at the college and interested coaches.
Just four Jamaican-born players have competed in Major League Baseball.
Charles “Chili” Davis was the first when he appeared for the San Francisco Giants in 1981. The switch-hitter, who is the new hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox’ Pawtucket Triple “A” team, played 19 seasons and was on three World Series-winning teams.
Outfielder/switch hitter Devon White, an outfield co-ordinator with the Washington Nationals, spent 17 seasons in the league and was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays which won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993 while right-handed power hitter/outfielder Rolando Roomes made the transition from cricket to baseball, playing three seasons from 1998-1990 with the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds and the Montreal Expos.
Cleveland Indians’ starting pitcher Justin Masterson was born in 1985 in Jamaica where his father served as students’ dean of the Jamaica Theological Seminary.
The San Francisco Giants drafted Kingston-born Andrew Dixon, who played six pro seasons in Mexico. Through his foundation, the Norfolk State University all-time stolen base leader is working closely with Jamaica’s Ministry of Education to help spread the sport on the island.