This week, Gift Ngoepe made history as the first African to play in a Major League Baseball game.
The 27-year-old played in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ win over the Chicago Cubs on April 26. “It was emotional, and I had to fight back the tears,” Ngoepe said after the game, according to ESPN. ”I thought about where I’ve come from, making the journey from South Africa to pursue my dream of playing in the major leagues someday,” Ngoepe said.
His journey to the big leagues kicked off at a Major League Baseball (MLB) training camp in Italy, where he was spotted and signed by the Pirates in 2008. After nearly a decade in the minor leagues and dealing with injuries, the infielder got his break.
Ngoepe’s debut in the MLB represents a major breakthrough, as the league is mainly dominated by players from North and South America. Ngoepe, who was born near Johannesburg, hopes his debut can open the door for other Africans. “You don’t have to be from a big country like the United States to reach your dream of making it to the major leagues,” he says.
Baseball is far less popular than other sports in Africa. Major European soccer leagues like the English Premier League are widely followed across the continent, and broadcast rights have become an expensive commodity. The US National Basketball Association is also currently working to deepen its relationship with the continent, establishing player academies and an annual all-star exhibition game dominated by African NBA stars.