Scott embraces heritage, hopes to spread baseball back home

March 6th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart's Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros’ clubhouse is filled with international flavor, with players from the United States, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba and Honduras comprising the 40-man roster, in addition to a manager who is from Puerto Rico. Houston even has a coach from Australia.

This year, there’s another accent in the clubhouse, though pitcher Tayler Scott isn’t exactly one to raise his voice very much. Scott, a non-roster invitee, was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2019, Scott became the first pitcher from South Africa to reach the Major Leagues and has since played in 39 career big league games with the Mariners, Orioles, Padres, Dodgers, Red Sox and A’s.

In case you’re wondering, Gift Ngoepe, who grew up about 10 minutes from Scott in Johannesburg, played 41 games with the Pirates and Blue Jays in 2017-18 and was the first South African (and first continental African player) to reach the Majors.

“Definitely as my career goes on, I look back and I still have to pinch myself thinking, ‘How did I actually even do that, coming from South Africa?’” Scott said. “It’s still an absurd thought to me. It was definitely my main goal and dream to be the first [South African] pitcher in the big leagues. To be able to do that was incredible.”

While most kids in South Africa were playing baseball or rugby, Scott was drawn to baseball and soon realized he was pretty good at it. Baseball wasn’t offered in schools, so he played on a club team that had 12-year-olds playing against players as old as 40.

“Most people don’t know there’s baseball,” he said. “It’s definitely not a sport that’s growing.”

With that in mind, Scott moved to the U.S. at age 16 to attend high school and play baseball in Scottsdale, Ariz., before being drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2011. His family remained behind in South Africa, though his parents took turns staying with him during his prep days in Arizona.

“I wouldn’t say at any point we thought I was good enough [to play in the big leagues],” he said. “It was more of a, ‘Let’s go and see.’ We decided, if anything, I’d finish high school in America and it would be a cool experience. We’ll go and see if picking up the volume of baseball will help increase my skill. I slowly progressed from there, and it worked out.”

Scott, who wears the South African flag on his glove, hopes to try one day to grow the game in his native country, though that will present some challenges.

“It’s definitely a tough task doing that in a country like South Africa, where soccer and rugby are such huge sports and such easy sports to pick up because you just need a ball,” he said. “With baseball, you need equipment and fields, and it’s definitely a lot of work to try and grow it. I think if we can get MLB involved and stuff, we could definitely grow it.”