Gift Ngoepe: 1st African-Born Player to Feature in the MLB

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Africa isn’t popular for producing Major League Baseball (MLB) players. However, that didn’t stop Gift Ngoepe from playing in the prestigious competition. In 2017, he became the first African to feature in the MLB and, to date, is only among the few who’ve achieved this feat. 

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The MLB is highly competitive and to get a spot, you must be one of the best players in the world. In this post, we’ll trace his journey into the MLB.

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Gift Ngoepe’s Journey to the MLB

Spotcovery-Gift Ngoepe: 1st African-Born Player to Feature in the MLB
Gift Ngoepe at the bat. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-2.0

 Gift Ngoepe was born in Limpopo but moved to Johannesburg to live with his mother who worked in a clubhouse. At three, Ngoepe began playing baseball and quickly established himself in the ranks. 

His efforts paid off as he joined a baseball academy in Italy. He also went on to play at the Gulf Coast League Pirates and later was part of South Africa’s team, which was featured in the 2009 World Baseball Classic Classic. 

The following year, he played 64 games in the MLB draft league and the Advanced-A Bradenton Marauders. He made .206, .316, .318, 20 RBI, with one home run, and 11 stolen bases. The following year, injuries held him back. 

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Ngoepe’s Return to MLB

He returned the following year and played the most games he’d ever played in his career – 124 for the Bradenton Marauders. He registered 22 stolen bases, made 9 home runs and made 36 RBIs.

Season after season, Ngoepe showed his consistency and prowess in playing. After an impressive time at the Bradenton, he was promoted to the Double-A Altoona Curve and after the season ended, continued playing in the Arizona Fall League.

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Joining the Pittsburgh Pirates

Gift Ngoepe’s highlights. Source: Video Credit: Melbourne Aces

After years of success with his teams, Gift Ngoepe was on the brink of making history. His performance at the Altoona Curve in 2014 caught the eye of the Pirates who invited him for training the following year. 

In 2016, he played for the Indianapolis Indians in the Minor Leagues, which is affiliated with the Pirates. In the next season, Ngoepe was promoted to the major leagues and made history as the first African player in the MLB, batting .222, .323, and .296. 

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Moving to Toronto Blue Jays

After one year, Ngoepe moved to the Toronto Blue Jays and got a starting position in the team. However, his stay was short-lived and after a season, he was released. He played in the Australia Winter League in 2018, signed for the Philadelphia Phillies and Pirates in the minor league and finished his career in the Melbourne Aces and Québec Capitales.

After his active career ended, Gift Ngoepe worked as a coach at the Newport Rams and Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Although Gift Ngoepe’s career didn’t have as much fanfare as it should have had, considering the magnitude of his accomplishments, his achievements remain. From interacting with baseball players at the clubhouse where his mother worked to playing at the pinnacle of the game, it’s a story that many wouldn’t have seen coming. 

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