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Mad Men's John Hamm is a major baseball fan

Jon Hamm stars as sports agent JB Bernstein

Jon Hamm stars as sports agent JB Bernstein in Walt Disney Pictures' "Million Dollar Arm," the true story of two young men who went from never throwing a baseball to being given a shot in Major League Baseball. Credit: Disney / Ron Phillips

The team was in the midst of a brutal two-city slide when Jon Hamm's TV alter ego, Don Draper, ended last Sunday's "Mad Men" episode with a somewhat slurred version of "Meet the Mets." Maybe it wasn't Keith Hernandez getting a front-seat smooch from Elaine Benes, but Draper's tipsy tribute probably was one of the better moments for the club's fans this season.

"For Don specifically, the Mets are great," Hamm said Friday during a media roundtable for the May 16 release of the film "Million Dollar Arm," in which he stars as a sports agent. "They're brand new. They represent nothing but possibility. They had this crazy year [1969] where they upset the whole apple cart. It's a perfect team for Don Draper to root for.

"Don would never be a Yankee fan. That's a frontrunner. He's an underdog guy, if anything."

Rooting for the little guy is at the heart of Hamm's new movie, which is based on the true story of two Indian teenagers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who win a pitching contest in their home country and end up getting signed by the Pirates. The agent, J.B. Bernstein, -- played by Hamm -- is the creator of the Million Dollar Arm competition and becomes the mentor for Rinku and Dinesh as they train in the United States for a shot at the majors.

Dinesh ultimately was released by the Pirates, but Rinku -- who claimed $100,000 as the contest's first winner -- remains in the Pittsburgh organization, not yet having pitched above Class A. Hamm met both while working on the film, and as someone with a legit knowledge of baseball -- the actor is a lifelong Cardinals fan -- he came away amazed by their accomplishments.

"I look at these two kids," Hamm said, "who had never touched a baseball from Day 1, and then, 10 months later, they're throwing with enough ability and enough potential to be [signed] by a major-league franchise. It's really a story about following that dream to its conclusion.

"If you would have told my 18-year-old self, if you want it bad enough, and you want to work hard enough, it's possible. I think that's what the Million Dollar Arm program has proven to a whole generation of Indian kids. You have an opportunity if you want to work hard enough."

Bernstein, an agent who specialized in the marketing of athletes, hoped to tap into what he figured to be the limitless talent base of a cricket-mad country in India when he started the competition in 2007. The "American Idol"-type contest is now in its third season, but the movie version of Bernstein's story could end up having the greatest impact for baseball's reach into India.

"It's an investment," Hamm said. "Like all investments, it's not an immediate return."

The real-life Hamm isn't a Mets fan ("Oh, I hated the Mets. With a passion that kills. Still do.") But he was there for one of the team's most infamous moments -- the Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Hamm spent most of the game sitting along the third-base line at Shea Stadium, wearing a Cardinals cap, but had retreated from the rain and watched indoors as Carlos Beltran took that third-strike curveball from Adam Wainwright. As much as he enjoyed that, however, the stinging memory from last October's loss to the Red Sox is fresher.

"It's great when it happens positively for you," Hamm said. "I've had it happen the other way as well."

Knowing St. Louis, Hamm expects a warm welcome for Beltran when he returns to Busch Stadium this month. But when it comes to the Yankees, Hamm pretty much shares Draper's viewpoint.

"It's the best and worst of what America is," Hamm said. "Juggernaut spending will work sometimes, and sometimes it won't. But they can absorb it because they're the Yankees."

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