Mpho Gift Ngoepe made history by being the first black South African to play in the Major League Baseball (MLB). He recently moved from his debut team, the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Toronto Blue Jays. Ngoepe isn’t just making history in the US but wants to get more South Africans involved in baseball. The Daily Vox team caught up with to speak about his transfer and his baseball plans for SA.
You’ve just moved to the Toronto Blue Jays. How do you feel about the move?
I’m very excited about the move. It brings a lot of new adventures to my life and new opportunities for me to further my career. I had a fantastic time with the Pirates. I was very blessed to be signed and looked after by them. With the Blue Jays, I feel like I am in a better position and I have better opportunities that lie ahead of me.
Do you miss South Africa?
What I miss most about South Africa would have to be the food because American food is a little bit processed. South African food is not processed and it’s all natural food. It tastes real, shall we say. My favourite South African dish would have to be pap and wors or pap and inkomazi. I am able to come back to South Africa once a year. I’m enjoying my trip this time. My girlfriend is from America and she’s visiting South Africa for the very first time so we’re out here travelling and getting to see South Africa.
Tell us about your plans for developing baseball in SA?
We’re trying to get some plans in progress right now to develop baseball. Because South Africa is a very athletic country and I believe there is a lot of potential that can be utilised and that can be seen. I mean baseball is a very interesting and great sport to play. If we get enough people and the potential grows, the leagues get stronger, I think South Africa will be one of the top 15 countries for baseball. We’ll be competing at a higher level each and every year or whenever there is competitions available.
How do you see that happening?
I guess the push needs to start from the federations. They need to put the plans in progress and develop from there. And then get funding from the government so if we could get the government to fund us [that would help]. Right now we’re actually talking about building a stadium at the Legends Golf and Safari Park. I just went over there to see the place and it’s a phenomenal area and with a nice view. And they have the safari park right there so it would be a great facility to start. By building a baseball facility kids can play and grow in baseball. We want to build an academy so kids do get to go to school while they train for whatever sport they want to do. And that’s the plan right now. So we’re looking for funding for that but mostly if the government can put baseball on the map and we get more publicity for baseball, I think baseball will go a long way.
Your journey to the Major League hasn’t been easy. Can you tell us about it?
I’ve been in the States for nine years. I played eight years in the minor leagues before I made it to the major leagues during my ninth year. My journey was very long and I had to go through some things. Those things helped me though to be the man that I am today; by learning things on and off the field and becoming a better person and understanding myself even better. From the first year that I started I had ups and downs till the day I made it to the big leagues. So that’s my journey for baseball. It all started here at the Randburg Mets at the age of three and then I got scouted at the age of 16-17 to go to the MLB academy in Italy and then got invited in 2008, that’s when the Pittsburgh Pirates saw me and they offered me a contract to go play in America.
If the government had more interest in baseball, there would be a lot more tournaments and I think we would have more kids. Because as far as the government goes, they are not funding baseball enough so we’re not getting to play overseas and compete at a higher level. I know that’s one of the interests I had as a kid: that I wanted to go play in different places. I got to travel a lot which I was fortunate but there were some tours that got cancelled because children didn’t have enough money to go to the tours. And that was just one of the things that stopped people from playing because we didn’t get those opportunities so then they decided they wanted to play cricket or rugby or hockey or soccer. So we kind of lost youth members because of that aspect of baseball. And yeah, just to get scouts over here and give us a better opportunity to get signed or further our careers in baseball.
What’s your advice for youngsters wanting to play baseball?
The words that I have is you never know who’s watching, so just keep playing hard and working hard each and every single day. Believe that you’re going to make it even though you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep pushing because you never know how close you can be to the prize.