Keeping the Faith    

Boston College pitcher Samrath Singh is believed to be the first observant Sikh to ever play Division 1 baseball.

Samrath Singh ’22 grew up in New Jersey in a loving family, starred at sports, excelled in school, and even learned to play the viola. He was also raised as an observant Sikh, which is why Boston College struck his parents as an odd fit when it came time for their son, by then a standout baseball player and student, to decide on a university.

In June 2017, Singh and his parents made the drive to Chestnut Hill to learn about BC, which had been heavily recruiting the tall lefthanded pitcher. After touring the campus and the athletic facilities, they found themselves sitting in the office of baseball head coach Mike Gambino. Singh’s parents by then were comfortable with the academic opportunities that BC offered, but there was something else they wanted to know: Could their son, who in keeping with his faith wears a turban and a beard and does not cut his hair, truly feel at home in a Jesuit Catholic institution?

"I’ve researched your religion,” Gambino replied, "and I want to tell you how some of the Jesuit values here parallel Sikh core tenets." He explained that, to his thinking, men and women for others perfectly complemented Seva, the Sikhism principle of selfless service. The Singhs were stunned. They had been on many of these recruiting visits, and this marked the first time that a coach had spoken knowledgeably about their faith. "Not only did that catch my attention—like, Whoa!" Singh recalled, "but my parents were like, 'Did he really just—did he really do that?'"

With the family quickly warming to BC, Singh had one final question: How would Gambino feel about him wearing his turban while he pitched?

"Well, what do you want to do?" the coach asked.

"This is me," Singh responded. "This is who I am. This is my religion. I want to pitch like this."

"I said, 'Let’s do it, dude,'" Gambino recalled. "I remember at that point, I looked at him, I’m like, 'I’m all in on this kid.'"

Singh matriculated in the fall of 2018, but it would be more than a year until he could finally take the mound for the Eagles. His arm had begun hurting during the previous summer and had never really stopped. Then, while he was attempting to throw early in 2019, the pain reached an agonizing new level. Soon after, he underwent a procedure known as Tommy John surgery that requires a long recovery process.

This is me. This is who I am. This is my religion. I want to pitch like this.

It would be nearly six months before Singh could begin throwing a baseball again. As his arm healed, he watched from the sidelines while the BC baseball team made a run to the semifinals of the 2019 ACC tournament. Singh was thrilled by his teammates’ success, but also frustrated by his inability to help. "I’ve done a lot of thinking about this," he said. "When you know you can contribute in a meaningful way, and when that’s taken away from you, it’s heartbreaking."

By the time the following season started, Singh’s arm was feeling much better. On February 29, 2020, BC played a game against Fairfield University that quickly turned into a laugher. When Fairfield came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, they were behind 19-6. Standing on the mound to get the last three outs for BC was Samrath Singh. His appearance marked not just his Boston College debut, but also, as near as can be determined, the first time that an observant Sikh had ever played in a Division 1 baseball game. He walked a batter, struck out another, and gave up one hit in a scoreless inning. And through it all he wore his turban. "The whole time on the mound, I was just smiling," Singh recalled. "I was ecstatic."

The pandemic and a return of the pain in his arm have limited Singh to just a couple of appearances since the game against Fairfield but he remains optimistic about his baseball future. It’s great for Sikh kids to look up to MLB stars Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, he said, "but I want them to be able to see themselves in someone at that level. So being the first observant Sikh playing on nationally televised baseball games, that would mean the world to me."

Meanwhile, Singh just completed his junior year at the Carroll School, where he is studying finance (he’s also minoring in computer science). He said that he stands out as an observant Sikh at a Jesuit Catholic school, but just as Gambino promised him during his recruitment visit, he feels right at home. "I want you to know how well you’ll fit in here because you’re Sikh," his coach had told him. "Because your diversity will fit in here." ◽