The career of Kumar Nambiar owes much to his family and his Indian origins.
His father instilled him with the love of the game. His mother learned the art of pitching through books and videos and then taught it to him.
So to make the Major Leagues as one of the first players of Indian descent has become as important to him as getting to The Show at all. Nambiar is a left-handed pitching prospect in the Oakland system currently playing for the High-A Lansing Lugnuts.
His father, Anant, was born in the Indian state of Kerala; his mother, Hema, in Gujarat. They immigrated to Toronto and Nambiar was born in New York City. And from the start, his parents imparted both the love of the game and the tools needed to be successful at it.
"When I was about 12 years old, I was struggling a little bit and I would play catch with my dad pretty often," he said. "(My mom) went to the library ... and with our contractor created a turf mound in our backyard with a strike zone. She taught herself how to pitch and throw into the strike zone first, and then taught my brother (Sachin) and I. So multiple times a week, we'd go into the backyard and practice. … I used that mound up until a couple years ago."
Nambiar, 25, took it from there. The first step was getting drafted, and pitching for Yale University wound up being not just an exciting opportunity for him, but a reminder that ballplayers who look like him could play professionally.
He received a lot of support in that regard from Yale head coach John Stuper, who had previously had one of his players, Manny Patel, selected by the Mariners in the 30th round of the 1993 Draft.
"And so as soon as I got to campus, he was like, 'Hey man, I haven't had a ton of Indian players but he got drafted and I don't see why you can't either,'" Nambiar said. "So that was always in the back of my head."
He heard his name called by Oakland during the 34th round (1,034th overall) of the 2019 Draft. That year Nambiar and Karan Patel, taken in the seventh round (200th overall) by the Chicago White Sox, became two representatives for a community that had not seen a lot of them in pro baseball.
"When I started my career, people were like, 'Oh, this kid's not Latin, well, what is he?' A lot of teammates just initially start speaking Spanish to me because of my skin tone," Nambiar said. "And when they learn I'm Indian, they're like, 'Oh that's so cool, I've never heard of a player from India.'
"So I think I've gained respect over the last couple years, and I hope all of the other players of Indian descent have felt the same way. I think it's just surprising at first, since there's not as many of us around."
That number does continue to grow, though. On the Lugnuts, Nambiar has an Indian teammate -- outfielder Clark Elliott, who was taken in the CBB round (69th overall) of the 2022 Draft. And he remembers another fondly from Yale -- fellow southpaw Rohan Handa, whose name was called in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft by the Giants.
"My head coach was like, 'Hey man, we're recruiting this other left-handed pitcher. He throws pretty hard, great family.' I'm like 'Oh, that's cool, that sounds good.' We didn't have a ton of lefties at the time," Nambiar recalled. "And then he was like, 'Yeah, he's also Indian.' I'm like 'What? You're recruiting another left-handed Indian pitcher?' … I thought it was the coolest thing.
"He was able to get drafted by the Giants. Kudos to him, we still stay in touch. We talk a ton. … I hope for the best for him. He's a great kid."
Nambiar continues to take a measure of pride in the successes of players with his heritage, particularly when prep shortstop Arjun Nimmala became the first first-generation Indian-American taken in the first round in July. Nimmala was selected 20th overall by the Blue Jays and signed for $3 million.
"Getting to hear about him and his story was incredible," Nambiar said. "He sounds like a beast. ... I wish him the best of luck. And hopefully at any point if he needs any advice or anything, I can help him out."
In that manner, Nambiar would be paying it forward the same way the mound in the backyard aided his own career. The 5-foot-11, 188-pounder has compiled a 6-2 record with a 3.34 ERA over 35 appearances for Lansing this season. And he has been on a tear as of late. In his past 11 appearances spanning 20 innings, Nambiar has posted a 1.35 ERA without a home run.
With over 1.4 billion Indians making up 17.76 percent of the world's population, not one of them has played Major League Baseball yet. Nambiar knows it's just a matter of time, though.
"Whether it's me, whether it's Arjun, whether it's Rohan, or somebody else down the road – that first outing, that first at-bat, whatever it's going to be, it's going to be a special one," he said. "I definitely do dream about it being me, but at the end of the day, whoever it's going to be, I know they're going to represent the group well and it's going to be a momentous day for Indians."
Evan Desai is a contributor for MiLB.com.