Samrath Singh’s turban has always been an extension of him. He says he was 2 or 4 when he first put it on, and like a limb, there wasn’t an exact moment when he became conscious of it. It’s just always been there. So when it came time for the 20-year-old senior to pitch his first baseball game for Boston College, wearing it on the mound was more of an assumption than a decision.
“I’m a man, I’m a Sikh man, and I’m proud of who I am,” he said.
Singh is the first Sikh to compete wearing a turban in a Division 1 college baseball game, according to Boston College. (A spokesperson from the National College Athletics Association said it doesn’t keep records of the races or religions of past players.) And though an injury and a pandemic have kept him off the field for over a year and a half, that fact alone thrills him.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said.
Being different isn’t a new feeling for him. Growing up in New Jersey, Singh was usually the only Sikh in his grade that wore a turban. He faced teasing and discrimination, but says he doesn’t like to focus on that.
“It’s not a burden,” he said. “That’s what goes along with being Sikh. When I was younger, maybe I didn’t realize that, and I would get angry. But as I’ve gotten older, I understand that this is a blessing.”
He sees the turban as his “crown” and as a physical representation of a strength others might lack because they haven’t experienced what he has. “Sikhs, we are warriors,” he said, referring to Sikhs’ historical roles on the Indian subcontinent.
“I don’t like to focus on when things have gone wrong or when people have been mean to me,” he said. “It’s much more important to hold that inner strength and focus on the outcomes I can control.”
As a kid, his parents enrolled him in every sport possible, and he loved all of them. He swam, played basketball and also the viola, but he was always best at baseball.
“I was always able to throw hard, and I was a pretty decent pitcher,” he said. “I never really thought about it too hard, but my dad really pushed me my sophomore year of high school to attend some showcase camps. He saw something in me that I didn’t see or care to look for.”
So he started on a showcase team, in which high school players can get face time with recruiters, and by senior year he was getting looks from major league teams in addition to colleges.
He had committed early on to Boston College, and after recovering from an elbow injury that required surgery, he finally pitched his first game as a college ball player in the spring of 2020.
“I could not stop smiling,” he said. “I was smiling on the mound. it was a lot of fun.”
But it wasn’t too long before the pandemic brought his season to a halt.
“That was really tough for me,” he said. “I put in all this work to come back my sophomore year and it didn’t work out.”
Junior year was entirely online, and now a rising senior, his elbow is still healing. He’s decided not to compete this year and is unsure of what his future in baseball will be.
“Believe me, it’s a very hard pill to swallow,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m more than just a baseball player.”
One of Singh’s lifelong dreams was to be a role model — the first Sikh to play in the major leagues.
“Even as far as I’ve gone now, I hope I’ve had that impact,” he said.
He’s far from writing off a future in baseball, and he’s keeping himself in top shape just in case his day comes. But for now, he’s focusing on other areas of his life and looking back on his time in college and the strides he made owning his identity at a time when shootings and discrimination have made Sikh pain ultravisible.
“I did that,” he said. “And I’m beyond proud of myself for that.”
This story was originally published on NBCNews.com.