By Bob Elliott
CARY, N.C. _ Jasvir Rakkar says his father, Avtar Rakkar, is asked the question all the time:
“Why does your son play baseball?”
They expect the son of a man born in Punjab province in India to be playing cricket or soccer.
“He gets it a lot more than I do,” said Rakkar wearing red shorts, black T-shirt and red Team Canada hat during Canada’s Pan Am team first workout at the USA Baseball Training Center at Thomas Brooks Park Sunday afternoon.
Instead, of being a wicket-keeper or a bowling and wearing white pants as they do in cricket field or making a corner kick like in soccer, Rakkar, 24, is right-handed pitcher attempting to be the first player of Indian descent to make the majors.
Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel signed minor league deals with the Pittsburgh Pirates after winning a reality TV show in India which began a movie The Million Dollar Arm.
“I saw the movie, it was pretty much from the agent’s perspective,” said Rakkar.
Singh pitched four seasons (84 games) in the Pirates system reaching class-A West Virginia, while Patel (15 games) never made it out of the rookie-class Gulf Coast League.
Why did Rakkar learn to love baseball after that first visit to watch his cousin’s T-ball game in Woodbridge?
“Because there’s so much going on, there’s so much to learn,” said Rakkar. “I always like to challenge myself.”
He has risen to the challenge.
Why does Jasvir pitch?
Because he’s good.
Last year and this he has walked 19 and struck out 72 in 79 1/3 innings spending time at class-A Boise, class-A Kane County, class-A Daytona, class-A South Bend and class-A Myrtle Beach (and one inning at triple-A Iowa).
Myrtle Beach manager Mark Johnson, who played eight seasons Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals, made Rakkar his closer.
And he has 10 saves, tying him for the second-most in the Carolina League and second in Cubs minor leaguer system. He’s 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA.
“He throws a ton of strikes, he competes,” said Tim Wilken, the former Chicago Cubs scouting director from Dunedin. Wilken, now a Cubs executive, drafted Rakkar in the 26th round from Stony Brook University in 2012, on the advice of scout Matt Sherman. “This year he’s been 88-to-92 MPH with a slider and a nice change. People are surprised at his stamina.”
This baseball journey began with that trip to Woodbridge to see his cousin play.
And it continues.
After playing for the Brampton Royals for coach Dwayne Smith, the Canadian Thunderbirds and Mel Oswald and the Ontario Terriers and Dan Thompson, he gained a scholarship to Stony Brook University. There he joined former Terriers Cole Peragine of Belle Ewart, Ont. and Kitchener’s Tanner Nivins, along with Toronto Mets grad Maxx Tissenbaum, currently in the Tampa Bay Rays system.
The Stony Brook Seawolves handed the LSU Fightin’ Tigers its first post-season home loss in decades to advance to the College World Series in Omaha in a best-of-three series that shocked the college world in 2012.
“Everyone talks about how great the Omaha experience was, LSU had the better atmosphere, there was so much energy,” Rakkar said. “Their fans treated us so well.”
After Stony Brook won the deciding Game 3 (leading for 29 of 30 innings) LSU fans gave the Seawolves a standing ovation.
Rakkar also kept the word student in the term “student-athlete” was named to the America East All-Academic team while at Stony Brook.
The reliever helped get the Long Island school to LSU making his third start of the season pitching six innings to beat the Central Florida Knights in a win-or-go-home game at Alex Rodriguez Stadium in Miami after the Seawolves had dispatched the Miami Hurricanes.
And when at home Rakkar still plays catch at Six Fields soccer field with his father Avtar, 51, a plant supervisor for Irpinia Kitchens. “Long toss -- no bullpens, not any more,” Rakkar said.
Sister Amita, a softball player, and brother Barinder, a pitcher for Concord University Mountain Lions in West Virginia, also work out together with brother.
Mom Darjeet, is a Grade 4 teacher at Queen Street school in Brampton. The family that learned the game together -- from t-ball to peewee and bantam, to playing short for the Ontario Summer Games team and elite ball, to college and the pros -- still plays catch together.
Maybe Rakkar is a trail breaker in the Indian community with his success in the Cubs organization and making the Pan Am teams which begin play Saturday at President’s Choice Field in Ajax.
“In India cricket is No. 1, then soccer is No. 2 ...” Rakkar said leaving you the impression baseball does not have a number ... yet.
Rakkar in his first stint with the Canadian National team.
One of the young arms along with Shane Dawson, 21, of Drayton Valley, Alta. on leave from class-A Lansing, Brock Dykxhoorn, 21, of Goderich, Ont. from class-A Quad Cities, and Windsor’s Evan Rutckyj, 23, at class-A Tampa, where he was an all-star.
Canadian flags will be waving when Rakkar takes the mound in Ajax.