ALTOONA, Pa. — Before donning a Curve jersey for the first time in four years, Gift Ngoepe made history as the first African-born player to make it to the major leagues. Now, he's looking to make the most of a second opportunity granted to him by the Pirates organization, which signed him initially in 2008.
"They gave me an opportunity to come down here in Double-A and get some playing opportunities," Ngoepe said. "I have to take every opportunity I get and make the best of it."
For Ngoepe, who was released by the Phillies' AAA-affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs last week, the game is bigger than himself and the way he goes about his day-to-day routine is a microcosm of that mentality.
"Every day is a grind and every day you're striving for something bigger, bigger than myself," Ngoepe said. "I'm trying to open doors for younger players from South Africa or Africa in general so they can pursue their careers and for people to chase their dreams, too."
According to Altoona manager Michael Ryan, Ngoepe will see time at shortstop, but also second and third to help with matchups moving forward. And while Ngoepe is expected to be a major contributor on the field, it's the intangibles he brings in the experience and leadership department that make him even more valuable.
"I think it's one of the reasons they brought him here. We have a younger group of infielders that can learn from Gift," Ryan said. "The guy's been in the majors, he's been in Triple-A and he's had success. He's an unbelievable fielder and they'll watch how he goes about his business, how he prepares."
A gif of 🎁 pic.twitter.com/VcHt4keoX7
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 30, 2019
Ngoepe brings a wealth of skill defensively and a lot of experience on and off the field his teammates can relate to, as he's been where they are before and then some.
"I'm trying to help the younger guys," if Ngoepe, 29. "The younger guys are going through what I went through when I was here, so I'm just trying to teach them what to do in different situations, like calming a pitcher down, telling them not to get frustrated with the umpires, or an infielder communicating and being on the same page with the other middle infielders, making them aware of the situation, how to play the game and put your team in the best situation to win."
A lot can change for a player who's had a wealth of experiences both positive and negative in the game of baseball, but Ngoepe's treated those experiences as ones he can learn from.
"I've matured a lot. I've learned a lot in my experiences since the last time I was here," Ngoepe said. "It's been four years since the last time I was here, so I've grown into a better baseball player in knowing what to do in different situations, certain things, and I've learned from guys who were older than me that I played with in Triple-A.
"I'm just learning every single day, every day I'm on the field I'm learning something, always something different. I'm just learning and becoming a better player every single day."
Where baseball takes Ngoepe the rest of the season is unknown, but one thing is for sure: Ngoepe is sure to make the most of his opportunities with the Pirates' organization.
"I have no expectations. I'm just coming out here and having fun and playing the game," Ngoepe said. "Grabbing every opportunity with both hands and seeing where it goes. If I end up going up to Indy or make my way back to Pittsburgh, that's the bigger goal, but right now I'm just trying to have fun and play my game."
CURVE'S TOP HITTERS
Mitchell Tolman, 2B -- Over the past week Tolman was 6 for 15 (.400) with seven walks and five runs scored.
Jared Oliva, OF -- Oliva was 6 for 16 (.375) scoring two runs, stealing two bases, three RBIs and a home run.
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: James Marvel won two games last week, accumulating 14 innings, allowing seven hits, three earned runs, two walks and 11 strikeouts. Marvel is 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA on the season.
Top reliever: Matt Eckelman. Eckelman closed out Marvel's victories by throwing a scoreless inning in each game. The Curve closer yielded only two hits while earning saves number 12 and 13 on the season. Eckelman's ERA is now at 4.23 on the year.
ROSTER MOVES/INJURY UPDATE
Here are the latest roster moves:
6/26: RHP Cody Bolton assigned to Altoona. RHP Blake Cederlind placed on the Temporary Inactive List.
6/29: INF Gift Ngoepe signed as a Minor League Free Agent, assigned to Altoona. OF Ryan Peurifoy assigned to High-A Bradenton.
The Curve ended the month of June much like they spent most of the month, winning. Altoona was 19-9 during June and sits three games behind Erie for the division lead entering July.
It was a winning week as the Curve went 4-3 by beating Binghamton in three out of their five games with them and Richmond in the other.
Altoona heads to Akron for a three-game set before returning home to host Erie for four games before the All-Star break.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Peoples' Natural Gas Field boasts one of the most interesting views in professional baseball --a roller coaster beyond the right field fence. It had been roughly three years since the roller coaster had been in operation as its amusement park underwent renovations. Now with it back in operation during games, it provides fans and players with a great view.
✅ First Skyliner ride of the year pic.twitter.com/mn96kWZHN9
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 29, 2019
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