Pirates rookie Ngoepe first African player to reach majors, singles in first at-bat
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Gift Ngoepe was aware of the significance of the moment when he put on his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform for the first time in the regular season.
The Pirates recalled the infielder from Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday, making him the first player from Africa to reach the major leagues, according to the team.
He singled in his first at-bat in that day’s game against the Cubs.
“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 said before the Pirates played the Chicago Cubs. “I’ve gotten plenty from people back home who are so excited. Baseball is still very much in the development stages (in Africa) and hopefully this gets more people interested.”
The Pirates optioned right-handed reliever Dovydos Neverauskas to Indianapolis.
The 27-year-old Ngoepe was born in Pietersburg, South Africa, and attended high school in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Ngoepe signed with Pittsburgh in 2008 and was batting .241 in Triple-A when he was promoted.
Ngoepe was not in the starting lineup Wednesday.
“It’s a great win for the organization and great accomplishment by Gift,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Ngoepe’s promotion. “I first saw him 6 1/2 years ago in instructional league and he’s completely changed.
“I’m sure a lot of people have told him over the years that he would never make the major leagues: professional scouts, people in uniform, people out of uniform. But he didn’t listen, and persevered until he got here.”
Ngoepe is considered the best defensive prospect in the organization. Pittsburgh is struggling defensively this season. The Pirates’ 19 errors entering Wednesday were tied for most in the majors.
Neverauskas became the first Lithuania-born and raised player to pitch in the majors when he appeared Monday in a loss to the Cubs.
“It shows that you don’t have to be from a big country like the United States to reach your dream of making it to the major leagues,” Ngoepe said. “Dovydos is from Europe. I’m from Africa. Baseball is not a popular sport (on either continent), but if you work hard enough and dream a little bit, anything is possible.”