Gift Ngoepe’s singular MLB debut came with a single in his first at-bat.
The Pirates infielder, the first African-born player in major-league history, did better than hold back the tears he said he probably would shed when manager Clint Hurdle called on him. Ngoepe, 27, got a clean base hit off Cubs starter Jon Lester to start the fourth inning Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
“I was like, ‘you’re in the big leagues, you’ve got to be a big guy,’” he recalled afterward (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
The native of South Africa clapped his hands as he rounded first base and then hugged first-base coach Kimera Bartee, who, the Post-Gazette noted, witnessed much of Ngoepe’s rise in the minors. Meantime, the Pirates dugout went wild, screaming, “For the motherland!”
“I thought about where I’ve come from, and what I’ve been through,” Ngoepe said. “All the struggles of the minor leagues, 8½ years, and then finally being here at this moment.”
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Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo rolled the historic baseball toward the Pirates dugout for a first-hit keepsake — or maybe a Hall of Fame-bound memento.
Baseball being baseball, pitcher Gerrit Cole scooped the ball and pretended to toss it into the crowd. It bounced off the new netting behind the dugout as teammates, fooled by the act, scrambled to recover the ball that ricocheted back Cole, laughing at his gag.
Meantime, Rizzo congratulated Ngoepe over at first, but the rookie had work to do.