The Gift could keep giving for Bucs

The Pirates season could have started better, but it could have definitely been worse. Flirting around the .500 mark at the end of the first month of the season is a position that many people thought the team would be in right now.

However, Pittsburgh may have recently received an unexpected jolt to carry them to the top of the National League Central standings.

That bump may have presented itself in the form of Gift Ngoepe.

Ngoepe is known as a sleek-fielding infielder but his bat is subpar. Well, the unexpected twist is that Ngoepe has shown he can hit at the big league level. Ngoepe had a single up the middle in his first major league at-bat and he went 3 for 4 with a triple and RBI in his first start in the Pirates lineup on Friday.

Yes, it’s only been two games.

Though they’ve been two games Ngoepe will remember forever.

He was a long shot to make it to the MLB. Heck, he was a long shot to even play the game of baseball as he was born and raised in South Africa. Ngoepe was the first black South African to sign a professional baseball contract and on Thursday he became the first African-born player to appear in a major league baseball game.

Ngoepe’s story is inspiring. He came from the humblest of beginnings and, as teammate Jordy Mercer put it, among the lions and giraffes. But Mercer’s hometown of Taloga, Okla. may not have been that different from Ngoepe’s “motherland” of Pitersburg.

Ngoepe grew up with the game of baseball.

His mother was an attendant for the Randburg Mets, a recreational baseball team in South Africa. Ngoepe, his younger brother and his mother actually lived in the team’s meager clubhouse. So, his backyard was not a savannah, but a baseball field. Ngoepe learned the game from these recreational players and took a liking to the sport in a country more known for its love of soccer.

Ngoepe attended camps in Europe and was eventually noticed by Pirates international scouts and signed a contract for $15,000.

He used that money to build a new house for his mother.

Since making it to the majors after toiling in the Pirates minor league system for nearly a decade, Ngoepe is now making a hefty amount of money to set himself up for a favorable future.

If he can latch on with Pittsburgh, the Pirates may have a favorable future in the next few months.

Then, it would be time for someone to buy the movie rights for this thrilling tale.

The Pirates have already made waves on the silver screen with the 2014 Disney production of Million Dollar Arm. The Pirates are a footnote in the film that focuses on Dinesh Patel and Rinku Signh, two other long shots in the world of baseball. Patel and Singh won a contest (The Million Dollar Arm) in their native country of India. Having never seen a baseball game, nor ever picking up a baseball, Patel and Singh had their obvious struggles on learning the game and developing a career out of it. The tandem were signed by the Pirates but have since fizzled out in the minors.

History could repeat itself, in a more positive way, once Ngoepe continues to make his mark. It would be a wonderful movie, for sure.

The Pirates could repeat another historical achievement this year, too.

In Sept. 1971, manager Danny Murtaugh filled out the first all-minority starting lineup in baseball history. The team featured players of African American and hispanic descent with second baseman Rennie Stennett, centerfielder Gene Clines, right fielder Roberto Clemente, left fielder Willie Stargell, catcher Manny Sanguillen, third baseman Dave Cash, first baseman Al Oliver, shortstop Jackie Hernandez and pitcher Dock Ellis. That team went on to win the World Series.

This year’s Pirates features a number of minority players, as well. While it hasn’t been done yet, manager Clint Hurdle can put out a team that looks like this: third baseman Josh Harrison, shortstop Alen Hanson, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, first baseman Josh Bell, left fielder Gregory Polanco, catcher Francisco Cervelli, right fielder Jose Osuna, second baseman Gift Ngoepe and pitcher Ivan Nova.

Not that Hurdle should see color as a driving factor in his managerial duties (Murtaugh did not, either), but that lineup listed above could win the team some games. Like they did in the 1970s, this year’s Pirates are already ahead of every other team in the majors with three African American players in the starting lineup. According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, only the Oakland A’s have as many African American players in the regular lineup.

African Americans only account for 8 percent of current MLB players, while nearly 30 percent of players speak a native language other than English.

The Pirates are at the forefront of finding talent in underrepresented areas of the country and the world.

History could repeat, again, with a unique list of players winning another World Series.

That, too, could be worth some air time on the silver screen.

(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com)

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