UPDATE: Since the original publishing of this post, it has been brought to my attention that Gift Ngoepe does not endorse the documentary "Hope: One in a Billion" and claims that the filmmaker exploited his story and lied about his intentions for the footage. You can see Gift's post/statement on the matter here
On April 26, 2017, three years ago, Gift Ngoepe became the first player born in continental Africa to suit up in the major leagues when he made his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ngoepe singled up the middle in his first big league at bat off of star Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. I read on Twitter that today marked the anniversary of Gift's history-making major league debut, and I immediately thought of "Hope: One in a Billion", the excellent documentary I had watched on Netflix about baseball in Africa and how Gift Ngoepe overcame its obstacles to succeed at the World's highest level of baseball. I've received quite a bit of positive feedback from a tweet about the documentary and decided to watch it once again this evening.
Much of the film consists of interview segments with former coaches, teammates, and executives from Ngoepe's career. They illustrate Gift's work ethic despite the "humble surroundings" he grew up in and the fact that he rarely played with men his own age, fitting in with much older players. The documentary even includes home video footage from the clubhouse of the Randburg Mets near Johannesburg, South Africa with which Gift once played as they celebrate his first major league appearance and subsequent hit. In addition, Ngoepe is heavily involved in the telling of his own story. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these interviews is Gift Ngoepe's awareness of what his time in the majors represented for his home country and all of baseball in Africa, yet he seems to wear far more gratitude than pressure.
"Hope: One in a Billion" has a second element outside of the story of Gift Ngoepe's journey to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The film also tells the story of the current baseball climate in South Africa. Through interviews with a teenage player named Mohammad, his mother, and his coach, "Hope" paints a picture of the challenges for young ball players in South Africa, where baseball is still a developing game of interest. From under funded teams to lack of nutrition, the young men who choose baseball over life on gritty streets face adversity that many in the United States could not possibly fathom.
Unfortunately, Gift Ngoepe struggled offensively and therefore has had little success at the big league level and has since played independent baseball in the US and in the Australian Baseball League. In spite of all this, he will always be the first player born on the continent of Africa to put on a major league uniform. He will live in the annals of baseball history forever, and "Hope: One in a Billion" offers just what its name offers: hope in a dark time for our game and our world. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Be sure to give "Hope: One in a Billion" a watch on Netflix and hit me up on Twitter @baseballsmymuse to let me know what you think!