Africa’s baseball history-maker, Gift Ngoepe (27) completed a different kind of home run recently.
The first African-born player to reach the major leagues may enjoy the life many sports-lovers aspire to, but he does not forget his roots.
Every December and January, Ngoepe flies home from America, along with his brother Victor who plays in the minor leagues, to stay with their brother Chris and his family in a modest house at the Randburg Mets Baseball Club.
Dressed in casual clothes, this international sports star with 28 Major League games under his belt met the Randburg Sun to discuss the phenomenal start to his baseball career, and his dreams for the future.
“This is where it all started for me,” said Ngoepe while his eyes glanced over the fields.
At the age of three, Ngoepe was staying with his mother Maureen, a clubhouse attendant at Mets.
“I saw people playing baseball through the window and I went outside and played on my own off the field. The coach saw me and called me over. He said I have a strong arm and can join his team.”
Ngoepe played with boys much older than him, in the U6 team. His love for the “mysterious” side of baseball was fostered and he went on to play at Mets until he was 18.
He progressed from playing for the Gauteng baseball team to the SA juniors and then the SA seniors.
After attending a training camp in Italy, Ngoepe was scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and moved to America to play in the minor leagues for eight years before his Major League debut on 26 April last year.
It was not always easy, and twice he considered giving up baseball. During his first year in the States, Ngoepe became very homesick and almost called it quits.
“Then in 2013 when my mom passed away I wanted to give up and come back to the family.”
But he stuck it out and hopes his story can inspire others to “never stop striving at what you want in life”.
Ngoepe met his girlfriend, Caitlin Anderson, while she was a team reporter for an opposing team.
“She had organised an interview with me but I could not make it because I was at Bible study. To this day she still has not interviewed me but knows more about me than anyone.”
Ngoepe brought Anderson with on his last trip to South Africa, and she got to experience nature reserves, and a walk with lions.
Ngoepe is still South African at heart, his favourite dish being pap, chicken and gravy. The thing he misses most is a South African braai.
Ngoepe was recently transferred to the Toronto Blue Jays, a Major League team in Canada. He hopes to have a career at Major League level for the next five to 10 years.
ALSO READ: Randburg Mets to the Major League