SOUTH AFRICA finally has a player in American baseball’s Major League - Gautenger Gift Ngoepe made his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
This was a landmark day for the sport, for South Africa and Africa, and although Ngoepe has found the hours since he was called into the game in Pittsburgh “crazy”, he’s keeping a cool head.
Ngoepe, 27, was brought into the action against last year’s winners of the World Series, the Chicago Cubs, and ended up on the winning side.
The South African, known more as a superb infielder than a specialist batter, recorded a hit in his first “at-bat” to reach first base safely.
Since then, he admitted from Pittsburgh yesterday, the world had whizzed by at breakneck pace.
“It’s been crazy. I’ve been doing interviews I’ve been on my bed all day,” Ngoepe said. “I’ve been getting messages from the entire world, calls from American people, and doing interviews with TV stations here and back home.
"I’ve done six interviews since I’ve been up. I’m trying to take baby steps, but it’s been a bit like Usain Bolt,” he said on Thursday morning.
“Specially getting a hit in my first at-bat it was the most memorable day. It was so amazing that it happened like that. I’m glad to be able to show what a South African can do.”
What a moment. pic.twitter.com/59UyHlrdz3— Pirates (@Pirates) April 27, 2017
Ngoepe has been with the Pittsburgh organisation for almost nine years, playing in lower-tier teams.
“I’m glad to be opening doors for and making opportunities for South African guys,” the player added. “If this is what you want and you worked hard.... It doesn’t matter where you come from, (success) like this can happen.”
Ngoepe would like to be an inspiration to young sportsmen and women.
“In the late 1990s I watched (South African) players like Brett Willemburg, Paul Bell and Ian Holness, and I thought ‘if these guys can make it into the professional game, I can make it too’.” The players mentioned played for American teams at the lower tiers.
Ngoepe’s late mother Maureen was at one stage the caretaker at the Randburg Baseball Club, where he spent a lot of time when growing up.
Edwin Bennett, former executive officer of SA Baseball and now a consultant for MLB working at development level locally, said he hoped this week’s call-up for Ngoepe and the exposure he had received would be of benefit to baseball in South Africa.
“Gift has exceptionally fast hands you could say it’s one of his gifts, and he reads the game well,” Bennett added. “We are very thankful to the Pirates club for sticking in there with Gift. Him getting into the Pirates team is just fantastic.”