TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
IT’S a long way from Polokwane, Limpopo to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania however you measure it.
One is 13 294 kilometres from the other; across the equator from the eastern side of northern South Africa to the eastern side of the north of the United States.
Gift Ngoepe has journeyed all of those kilometres, and many more, to stand where he stood on Wednesday.
That place was PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and in the top of the fourth inning of the Pirates’ game against the Chicago Cubs, Polokwane-born Ngoepe became the first African to play Major League Baseball (MLB).
“At that moment … it’s real, it’s happening,” Ngoepe told MLB.com in an onfield interview after the game.
“We finally have someone from Africa that made it to the big leagues.”
He said he could feel the weight of expectation from home.
“Representing my country and my continent, and them pushing me every single day, is awesome support and love from them,” Ngoepe said.
He began repaying that faith by earning a base hit up the middle off Jon Lester, one of the most respected pitchers in all of baseball, in his first at bat.
“I almost cried,” Ngoepe said about his early success.
He drew a walk and struck out in his other at bats, and ended the game on a high when he turned the double play from second base that secured the Pirates’ 6-5 win.
Ngoepe was signed by the Pirates organisation in 2008 following a stint at a MLB academy in Italy and played for South Africa at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.