After nine seasons in the minor leagues, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe made his major league debut on April 26 -- and in the process, became the first African-born player in MLB history. Since then, Ngoepe has been a regular player for the Pirates at second, third and shortstop. He sat down with ESPN reporter Jeremy Fowler to talk about his whirlwind two weeks.
What have the last two weeks been like?
They've been pretty amazing. I've enjoyed my time here. My teammates have taken me in and are teaching me everything, the way of being a big leaguer and how to look after yourself on and off the field. It's been an amazing time, and I've learned so much.
How has the team taken you in?
David Freese came in and said, hey, if you have any question about certain stuff, the game -- I'm picking his brain so much, asking him when to do this, when to do that. Hearing it from a player's perspective more than a coaching perspective, there's a lot of teaching in that. Having Cutch (Andrew McCutchen) talking to me, describing a pitcher he faced or what he is looking for at the plate against a certain guy. I'm just learning about all that and trying to preview a game in every way you can. That's just the way they do it up here. In order to be the best, you have to work like the best.
Where did your first name originate?
My first name, Mphó, is from South Africa. My mom was bearing me, and a prophet said, your ancestors want you to name your child Ngoepe. He's going to bring great joy and happiness to your life. That was the story of my name.
How did your mom come across that prophet?
She was at a church at the time, and the lady just walked up and said, this is it. My mom had no idea who she was or anything like that.
How have you processed this major league reality?
The first couple of days have been like I'm living in dream land. I was floating. It was something out of this world. It was a dream come true. It was better than what I dreamed of. I'm kind of back down to earth now. Everything has become a reality. I'm still soaking everything in and taking each day at a time. It's been pretty amazing.
Relatives, friends, family -- how have they contacted you since you've been up?
I contact them. We have this app called WhatsApp. We're able to communicate through social media and everything like that. Friends and family have been showing me great love and support. Right now, I think I had like 80 messages on Facebook. I'm not even through the first 10. Friends from South Africa, here, all around the world, the people I've met along my journey of life.
Who do you talk to after every game?
My brother (Victor, who's in the minor leagues), I speak to every day. My other brother back home, I speak to every day. My squad back home, we check in on each other, tell each other stories.
After nine years in the minors, what's allowing you to compete now?
Doing what I need to do, catching ground balls, turning double plays. I'm just going to keep working at it and keep battling at the plate any way that I can make an impact.
What's been your interaction with fans here?
The fans have been pretty great here. I receive messages from them on my social media. I bounced into some kid yesterday in the restaurant and he recognized me and wanted to take a photo. This morning I surprised some lady in the elevator (at my hotel). She actually forgot to get out on her floor. It was pretty funny.
How did you surprise her?
She was getting out of the floor I was on. And she saw me. And she forgot to get out of the elevator because she was so stunned I was actually in this elevator. She was like, is this really you? She went all the way down to the first level with me and said she had to go back up to her level. It was pretty funny.
How does that make you feel to have interactions that affect people?
It feels good. I just want to affect people in a good way, make them smile, bring the good side out of people. It feels good.
How do you appreciate what's been going on in your life?
I just appreciate what is going on. I appreciate the people that are in my life, who have been there from day one, and the people along the way that have helped me. I just take each day at a time and be grateful for the things I have today.
How do you want to be remembered as a player?
I just want to be remembered as a kid who had fun, a kid that showed a lot of passion and loved the sport and went out there and gave his all every single day.
How will your next trip home be different based on how the season's gone?
It's going to be crazy. I'm trying to sneak into my own country right now. We will see how things go. The sports minister of some province said she wants to give me a hero's welcome. I'm trying to stay away from all that other stuff and just be home with my family. I'm trying to live a normal life, although it's not going to happen.