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Mpho’ Ngoepe Becomes First African-born Player in the Big Leagues

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Legendary player Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1945, paving the way for players from the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the rest of the world. But in the seven decades since Robinson made his Brooklyn Dodgers debut, there have been no players from the African continent–until now, thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On Wednesday, South African native Mpho’ “Gift” Ngoepe made his debut for the team. After spending nine years toiling in the minor leagues, Ngoepe was finally called up to the big stage.

“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,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve gotten plenty from people back home who are so excited.”

The folks back home weren’t disappointed, either. During his first at bat, Ngoepe–who’s first name means “Gift” in Sotho–connected for a single.

After realizing his dream of finally making it to the bigs–and connecting with the ball–Ngoepe said the moment lived up to the hype.

“I’ve dreamt about this over and over and over,” he said after the game. “And it lived up to every aspect of the dream that I had as a kid.”

Ngoepe was born in Polokwane, South Africa and grew up playing baseball, a pastime that was encouraged by his mother. After being spotted by a European scout in Italy, he was signed by the Pirates, becoming the first Black South African player to earn a contract.

Unfortunately, Ngoepe’s mother passed away in 2013, years before her son would be called up to main stage, but she did live long enough to see her other son, Tlou Victor, signed to the Pirates as well.

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