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Of speaking 3 languages, playing the viola and the 'Handa-bar' mustache

No other sport is more axiomatic than baseball, whose platitudes manage to span eons. Example: "Every time you go to the ballpark, you will see something you've never seen before."

But this dude?

Holy Headlines, Batman. Ever see a viola-playing, three-language-speaking, Yale-educated lefty who throws 97.8 miles per hour, wears a Rollie Fingers mustache and is of Indian descent?

Ladies and gentlemen: Rohan Handa.

"Definitely a different background than most baseball players," Handa said, uttering an understatement the size of Shaq's Sketchers.

Handa — happily for him, not so much for us — made his final start with the Mystic Schooners in Newport Tuesday night. He's leaving for his home in Charlotte, where he'll prepare for the Major League Draft, now that he's undergone, in his words, "this new version of himself."

The two-minute drill version: He was throwing 82 pre-pandemic, realizing changes were necessary to unearth his Inner Igniter Of The Radar Gun. Despite throwing but 31.2 innings in his entire Yale career to date — he's a junior — his private workouts at a facility near his home have increased his velocity, as if going from a Ford Focus to a Ferrari.

He hit 97.8 on the gun his first night with the Schooners in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, with about 20 professional scouts watching. The mound at Fitch High has been a hearth to several notable pitchers over the years — Matt Harvey, Jesse Hahn and Paul Menhart among them. Someday, we all may be saying we knew Rohan Handa back in the day, too.

"I'm anxious and excited for what's coming," Handa was saying Monday at DBI in Groton, working out with Schooners manager Phil Orbe, coach Dennis Long and with teammate Tucker Flint of Maryland. "The velocity is there. Now we see if I can maintain consistency. No one's ever heard of me until as of late. This is a new version of me. But they know they're going to get a hard worker."

They're going to get so much more than that.

Handa manages to parlay his zeal for baseball with a comforting intellectual humility that would make major league marketing departments salivate.

"I come from family of immigrants from India," Handa said, alluding to his dad who graduated from Indian Institute of Technology and is an IT entrepreneur, and his mom, who has a master's in social work and psychology from Delhi University (and who makes killer Indian cuisine, according to her son).

"I'm very thankful for my background. I think it was the best experience any child could have had in terms of how to be raised. I have a lot of wonderful, cherished moments. It's not a family full of athletes. The spot I'm in now is as different as it gets."

He learned Chinese in the sixth grade, thus allowing him to be fluent in Chinese, English and Hindi, his family's native language. He has learned to play the viola, a string instrument in the violin family (not to be confused with Frank, a pretty good lefty in his day, too).

"My parents recommended I learn Chinese. I wasn't entirely sure why," Handa said. "Looking into the world now, it's the best thing I could have done. When it comes to what I want to do (he's a political science major), politics and China tend to be very well related as of late."

Handa used his capstone project his senior year in high school to create the U.S. chapter of an international charity organization called "Kitaab," which promotes literacy in children and makes story books available to underprivileged kids around the world. "Kitaab" means "book" in Urdu, a language native to India.

"When I last went to India 2017-18, we gave the books ourselves to the kids," Handa said. "Very rewarding."

And then there's Handa's visage, adorned by a handlebar mustache — if he makes the bigs, it may become a Handa-bar mustache — perfected in the old days by Rollie Fingers.

"On game days when I pitch, I do use mustache wax and I curl it," Handa said. "It's a handlebar. I didn't get it from Rollie Fingers. Just something I wanted to try. I've always been able to grow facial hair. I grew my biggest beard in eighth grade."

No player of Indian descent has ever made the majors. Yes, there is the story (and movie) of Rinku Singh, the son of a truck driver who grew up in rural India winning a reality TV show contest called "Million Dollar Arm." Singh, who signed with the Pirates, had elbow issues and has now taken to pro wrestling. Handa's former Yale teammate Kumar Nambiar (a former Schooner, too) is pitching for Oakland at Class A Stockton is also of Indian descent.

"It would be really cool if we both made it," Handa said.

Meantime, we're thankful here in our corner of the world to have seen Handa, even if Rohan, we hardly knew ye.

"If I had a college season, I don't think I would have been here," Handa said. "I think I'd be training in Charlotte instead. But not having a season, I needed to showcase myself. So (Yale assistant) Josh Schulman called Mystic and there was an open spot. It's something I'm very thankful for."

Now the draft awaits. Somebody is getting a viola-playing, three-language-speaking, Yale-educated lefty who throws 97.8 miles per hour, wears a Rollie Fingers mustache and is of Indian descent.

"I'm a family man. I cherish everything about where I'm from," Handa said. "My mom's side of the family still lives in India. Being a family man has been a huge part of my life. I'm also still committed to the dream. I don't care how different I am. I want to make the major leagues and make an impact. Not just make a debut and go back. I want to be in the majors for a long time."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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