PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — History was made Wednesday night as the Pittsburgh Pirates deployed the first Major League Baseball player ever from the African continent.
He’s an infielder from South Africa, where baseball ranks far behind rugby, cricket and soccer in popularity, but Gift Ngoepe has been playing baseball his whole life.
“I cannot describe the feeling right now,” he said from the Pirates clubhouse before his debut. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”
The average Pirates’ fan may not have heard of Ngoepe, but they definitely know his name in Indianapolis, where he’s been playing in the minors.
But now, he’s been called up by the big league club.
“Big stadium,” he said. “Everything right now is just breathtaking, right now.”
If he was nervous in his MLB debut, it didn’t show. Fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs, Ngoepe got his first big league hit.
Ngoepe’s story is unique in the history of the game. He grew up near Johannesburg, South Africa, living in an amateur baseball team’s clubhouse. His mother was the groundskeeper.
“I was watching these people playing this game, I didn’t know what it was called,” he said.
The Pirates signed him nine years ago, when he was still a teenager. He’s always been a skilled fielder, and now his hitting’s coming on.
“I would love for him to have a dollar for everybody who’s looked at him and said he’ll never make it,” said Clint Hurdle, the Pirates manager.
“It was a long road,” added Ngoepe.
A dream come true, he says now.
“I’ve dreamed of this over and over, and it lived up to every aspect of what I dreamed as a kid,” he adds.
Ngoepe’s mother, who raised him in that clubhouse, died four years ago. Ngoepe says she’s been on his mind.
“I know she’s looking down on me, and I know she’s happy because I told her this moment would come since I was a little kid,” Ngoepe said.
Ngoepe’s younger brother, Victor, is also a prospect with the Pirates organization.