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PITTSBURGH — Gift Ngoepe was aware of the significance of the moment when he put on his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform for the first time in the regular season.
The Pirates recalled Ngoepe, an infielder, from Class AAA Indianapolis on Wednesday, making him the first player from Africa to reach the major leagues, according to the team.
“It’s a dream come true for me because it’s been my dream since I was a 10-year-old boy, but it also means so much to the people of South Africa and baseball in Africa,” Ngoepe said before the Pirates played the Chicago Cubs. “I’ve gotten plenty from people back home who are so excited.” He noted that baseball in Africa was “still very much in the development stages” and said he hoped that an African reaching the major leagues would spur more interest.
The Pirates optioned the right-handed reliever Dovydas Neverauskas to Indianapolis. Neverauskas made history himself two days earlier, becoming the first person born and raised in Lithuania to make the major leagues, according to MLB.com. Neverauskas pitched two innings in a 14-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
Ngoepe, 27, was born in Pietersburg, South Africa, and attended high school in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Ngoepe signed with Pittsburgh in 2008 and was batting .241 in Class AAA when he was promoted.
In his first at-bat on Wednesday, Ngoepe singled off Cubs starter Jon Lester.
“It’s a great win for the organization and a great accomplishment by Gift,” Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, said of Ngoepe’s promotion. “I first saw him six and a half years ago in instructional league, and he’s completely changed.