Gift Ngoepe has made history in Major League Baseball, becoming the first ever player born in Africa to play in a game at the United States’ highest level of baseball. He debuted for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night against the Chicago Cubs. In the game, he went one for three with a single in the fourth inning off of veteran pitcher Jon Lester. He signed with the Pirates in 2008 and worked in their minor league system before finally receiving the call to the top level yesterday. The Pirates ended up defeating the Cubs 6-5.
Ngoepe grew up in the town of Randburg, South Africa, just outside of Johannesburg. His mother worked at a local baseball club, and he began playing at the age of 12. “It’s a dream come true for me because it’s been my dream since I was a 10-year-old boy, but it also means so much to the people of South Africa and baseball in Africa,” Ngoepe told The New York Times before the game. Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, marveled at how far Ngoepe has come: “I first saw him six and a half years ago in instructional league, and he’s completely changed.” Baseball in Africa is “still very much in the development stages” according to Ngoepe, although he hopes his brother, who is also in the Pirates’ minor league system, can become the next African to play in MLB.
Ngoepe was called up from the Pirates’ AAA affiliate after batting .241 at that level. Ngoepe is considered a defensive prospect, and given the Pirates’ struggles with limiting runs this season, the team hopes he can help them in that department. In exchange for this call up, the Pirates sent down Dovydas Neverauskas, who made history by becoming the first ever Lithuanian player to ever play in MLB on Monday.