It wasn’t as dramatic as a Hollywood script but Gift Ngoepe certainly now has a story worth telling.
The 27-year-old made history on Wednesday night in becoming the first South African – and African for that fact – to play Major League Baseball (MLB) in America after playing his first game for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And yes, it’s a massive achievement as thousands of local American players never make it to that level.
South Africans don’t need to worry about Ngoepe having troubles earning the respect of his colleagues.
He was still turning out for Triple-A Indianapolis – one of the Pirates’ feeder teams – when manager Andy Barkett walked in.
“They’re now looking for the African,” said Barkett.
Every single teammate cheered because they knew the sweat and tears it took for Ngoepe to get this chance.
The Pirates had finally come knocking for him.
Born in Polokwane, he – now famously – fell in love with Baseball at an early stage.
His mother, Maureen, was a clubhouse attendant at Randburg’s Mets club, where they lived in a small room in the clubhouse.
Before her death in 2013, Ngoepe promised his mother he’d make her proud one day.
After being invited to a MLB academy in Italy, he was snapped up by the Pirates.
But it took him nine years in the lower leagues – called the minor leagues in America – to work his way up.
It was worth the wait.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from. No matter where you are, who you are, you can still make it,” Ngoepe told various news outlets.
“It was a long road. It was a long journey. I kept with it. There were a few times I wanted to stop. It’s the people that are behind you that keeps you going every single day. That kind of kept my fight. My ninth year, and I made it to the big leagues.”
On debut against the Chicago Cubs, Ngoepe enjoyed some success already, recording a hit and a run as a pinch hitter.
And this for a guy who isn’t known as a hitter (he plays as an infielder).
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 27, 2017
“It’s a fabulous organizational win for everybody,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
“I would love for him to have $1 for everybody who’s looked at him and said he’ll never make it. He’s just continued to press on and play and probably many times believed when not a whole lot of other people did.”