Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

African Ngoepe Takes Long Road to Pirates

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

African Ngoepe Takes Long Road to Pirates

Article excerpt

Gift Ngoepe walked into the Pirates clubhouse at PNC Park Wednesday wearing a smile and a green polo shirt from his days playing for South Africa in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He found his locker, his No. 61 jersey and reunited with old teammates from these past nine years.

With his promotion to Pittsburgh, Ngoepe, 27, became the first African-born player to reach the major leagues. His arrived Wednesday and replaced right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas, who on Monday made history as the first Lithuanian in the majors.

"It doesn't matter where you come from," Ngoepe said. "No matter where you are, who you are, you can still make it."

Ngoepe and his Class AAA Indianapolis teammates were stretching in the batting cages during a rain delay in Pawtucket, R.I., Tuesday when manager Andy Barkett entered. His next words, Ngoepe recalled, were: "Well we sent the European. Now they're looking for the African."

After 704 games in the minors, Ngoepe was bound for Pittsburgh.

Manager Clint Hurdle applauded the trailblazer Ngoepe, a 5-foot-8 slick-fielding shortstop and utility infielder, and said, "I would love for him to have $1 for everybody who has looked at him and said he'll never make it."

"It was a long road," Ngoepe admitted. "There were a few times I wanted to stop. . I cannot describe the feeling right now. It hasn't hit me yet, I guess. When Clint calls me onto the field, I think that's when everything will come together. I'll probably burst into tears."

To simply say Ngoepe grew up around baseball is insufficient. His mother, Maureen, raised Ngoepe and his little brother, Victor, in a tiny room attached to the clubhouse at a ballpark in Randburg, South Africa. Maureen worked for the team, the recreation-league Randburg Mets.

One day, a coach saw Ngoepe throwing a ball against the wall and invited him to play with the team. After years and years of development, he showed promise local coaches had not seen. It was during an under-17 tournament in Mexico in 2005 when Tom Randolph, then a coach for the Czech Republic team, saw Ngoepe play. …

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