MLB’s First African-Born Player Made His Debut Last Night

Gift Ngoepe singled in his first MLB game

Image via Pittsburgh Pirates/Instagram

When the Pittsburgh Pirates called up Gift Ngoepe from the minors this week to join the big league club for the first time, he had a fan club half a world away eagerly awaiting his debut. Because when he took the field in the fourth inning of the game last night, Ngoepe became the first African-born player to appear in a Major League game.

“It means a lot to people back home. I’​ve been getting a lot of messages today from my friends and family. I’​ve had a tremendous crowd from South Africa cheering me on,” Ngoepe told reporters after the game.

With all the love from supporters back home, by the time his history-making moment arrived, it nearly overwhelmed Ngoepe. He admitted after the game that he had to hold back tears when he found out he was going in the game. But he was able to steady those nerves, and in his first ever at bat, he singled up the middle off of Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester.

Ngoepe said he’​s dreamt of playing in the Major Leagues since he was 10, but it had to have felt a distant dream considering no one from the suburbs of his Johannesburg home, let alone the entire African continent, had ever made it to the highest levels of baseball. Pittsburgh scouts first spotted him at an MLB academy in Italy and signed him to a minor league deal back in 2008. He toiled in the minor leagues since then, becoming one of the team’​s best defensive prospects. When the club struggled on defense to start this season—the ​Pirates lead the league in errors—they ​called up Ngoepe to play second base.

After the a great debut, where he also drew a walk to go with his hit, he stood by his locker and reflected on what it meant for him to finally make it to the top of his sport.

“It means that it doesn't matter where you come from,” Ngoepe said. “No matter where you are or who you are, you can still make it no matter what country.”

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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