One in 1.6 Billion – South African Gift Ngoepe’s Debut Against the Cubs


One in 1.6 Billion

It’s not everyday that a barrier in sports comes crashing down. Yet on April 26, 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates demolished another one. For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, a native of Africa found himself on the game day roster. Gift Ngoepe, a talented middle infielder from Randburg, South Africa, joined the team from Triple-A Indianapolis. In fifteen games with Indianapolis, Ngoepe has put up a slash line of .241/.308/.379/.687 with 14 hits in 58 at-bats. Ngoepe’s debut came against the Chicago Cubs, and confirmed early in the day by Pirates beat reporter Adam Berry.

Gift Ngoepe’s Debut

In the fourth inning, Ngoepe entered as part of an early double switch. He took over at second base, replacing Philip Gosselin, and hitting ninth.

His first major league at-bat came to lead off in the bottom of the frame. The switch-hitting Ngoepe found himself facing lefty ace Jon Lester. He was able to make contact on a 89 MPH pitch, and he drove it past Lester, through the infield gap. Further, he earned a walk on his second plate appearance. Finally, he struck out in his final plate appearance of the game.

In the top of the ninth inning, Ngoepe pivoted the game ending double play hit into by Albert Almora. Before the double play, he had three other defensive chances, accounting for two assists and one putout.

The Pirates this year are a team of many nations. To make room for Ngoepe on the 25-man roster, the Pirates sent Lithuanian Dovydas Neverauskas to Triple-A. On April 25, Neverauskas had become the second Lithuanian to ever play in a MLB game.

Before the game, Ngeope stated to the press, “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.” After the game, when asked for commentary, Ngeope said “It was awesome.”
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