Gift Ngoepe is breaking ground for an entire continent.
The 27-year-old infielder was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates and is the first player hailing from Africa to make their major-league debut. Ngoepe was inserted into the lineup during a double switch Wednesday and promptly singled in his first at-bat off Cubs pitcher Jon Lester.
Ngoepe, who is from from Pietersburg, South Africa, became the first black South African to play professional baseball — at any level — when he signed with the Pirates in 2008. He then played through the minors and in the World Baseball Classic for his native country before getting his big chance for the struggling Pirates (8-12)
Africa, for the most part, is a soccer-obsessed country but has produced some top-level NBA stars including Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.
On Jackie Robinson day, CC finds lack of blacks in MLB disturbing
The continent also is big on cricket, which is similar to baseball. An initiative in South Africa several years ago produced several MLB prospects, but Ngoepe will be the first to make it the big leagues.
The Pirates have been aggressive in signing players from underscouted nations. They were responsible for the movie “Million Dollar Arm” when they signed two Indian pitchers — Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel — in 2008.
On Monday, they debuted on the mound Dovydas Neverauskas, the first player who grew up in Lithuania to play in the majors.
Neverauskas allowed one run in two innings of relief.
Send a Letter to the Editor