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Ken Borland


Talent meeting opportunity at the root of development

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Gift Ngoepe has been making headlines this week, giving South African baseball a rare moment in the sun, and his incredible story just goes to prove that talent meeting opportunity should be at the root of all transformation or development efforts in this country.

Ngoepe became the first ever player born in Africa to play Major League Baseball when he turned out for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions, and made a single in his first at-bat, showing his ability as his hit registered the highest velocity off the bat in the whole game, and he then played a part in the double-play that ended the contest and sealed a thrilling 6-5 win for his team.

As is so often the case, nobody could have guessed what talent Ngoepe possessed for the quintessential American game. It was opportunity that unlocked the door and changed his life, leading to him becoming a tremendous role-model for all the less privileged people with sporting dreams in South Africa.

That opportunity came in the most extraordinary, and yet typical, South African way. His mother just happened to be employed as the cleaner at the national baseball headquarters in Randburg and Gift and his younger brother Victor, who plays in the Gulf Coast minor league, stayed with her in a little room on the premises.

Given the opportunity to have a go at this strange sport that is so foreign to most people on the continent, Ngoepe’s talent rapidly became obvious.

Of course there is a gap of several years between that and making history this week, filled with sacrifice, perseverance and a determination to fulfil his dreams. The joy of becoming the sixth South African and the first Black African to sign a professional baseball contract in 2008 gave way to the hard work of spending nine years in the minor leagues.

The magnitude of his achievement and the character of the man is shown by the reaction of both his team-mates and the Cubs to Ngoepe’s special day.

He was warmly greeted by his team-mates when he came on to field at second base and his single was wildly celebrated in the Pirates’ dugout, with chants of “For the Motherland!” and there were tears all round. The Cubs rolled the ball used for the single into the opposition dugout so Ngoepe could keep it as a memento.

The wonderful story of Ngoepe is in stark contrast to the other big sporting news item of the week, the almost certain demise of Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Once the number one ranked bowler in international limited-overs cricket, Tsotsobe is the latest player to be charged in the corruption web that began with the machinations of Gulam Bodi.

The story of Tsotsobe features all the talent and even more opportunity than Ngoepe’s. The left-arm paceman comes from a well-off family in the Eastern Cape with strong sporting links, his sister Nomsebenzi being a former captain of the national women’s rugby team.

Tsotsobe had all the backing and opportunity in the world, but he lacked the work ethic and determination that so clearly drives Ngoepe. Conditioning, which is really just about hard work, was always a problem for Tsotsobe, and eventually the Proteas management lost patience with him.

Seduced by the bright lights and a glitzy lifestyle, it was perhaps inevitable that Tsotsobe would ultimately fall victim to the lure of easy money.

And yet there are current rising stars like Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, who stand poised on the edge of stellar international careers having risen above similarly disadvantaged childhoods as Ngoepe, both being the sons of domestic workers.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170429/282437054017674

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