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Scott aims to be MLB's first South African hurler

Growing up in Johannesburg, righty chose baseball over rugby, soccer
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Infielder Gift Ngoepe made his debut with the Pirates last year and became the first South African to play in the Major Leagues.

Rangers pitcher Tayler Scott is not discouraged.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Infielder Gift Ngoepe made his debut with the Pirates last year and became the first South African to play in the Major Leagues.

Rangers pitcher Tayler Scott is not discouraged.

"There were a couple of us in the race to be the first South African," Scott said. "There is still the title of being the first South African pitcher, so I'm still in the race for that. It would be a great achievement to have that title."

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It would also be a tremendous moment for the Scott family. Scott was born in Johannesburg and still makes his offseason home in his native South Africa, but he was 17 when his parents partially relocated to the United States so he could pursue his dream.

"They definitely sacrificed a lot for me to be here," Scott said. "I really want to do it for them."

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South Africa has started developing a rich sports legacy as it has emerged from the country's tumultuous political and social past and re-joined the rest of the world in international competition. But is not yet a hotbed for baseball.

Rugby, cricket and soccer are the most popular sports and South Africa's stunning victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup was a pivotal moment in the country's history. Basketball, golf, swimming, boxing and surfing are also popular.

Baseball is still in the embryonic stage, although the success of Scott, Ngoepe and others is helping.

"Baseball down there is very tiny, very little thing," Scott said. "It's kind of a recreational thing for guys on Sunday. Slowly MLB has started getting scouts down there to see the guys, and we have played in the World Baseball Classic. Like any sport, you have to kind of grow up in it with the tradition and culture. Since we have soccer and rugby, it's kind of hard to grow the culture of baseball. We don't have the facilities.

"I played every other sport I could -- rugby, soccer, cricket -- everything you could think of, and baseball as well. Whenever I could find the time, I found some sport I could play. Baseball started taking over as I got older and I got better."

Not cricket? No chance of being a bowler or a wicket-keeper?

"Cricket is a lot different," Scott said. "I was never really that good at cricket. I don't have the arm slot for cricket, so that kind of fell away. I'm still into rugby and soccer, but baseball took over."

Once Scott got serious about baseball, he and his parents -- Rodney and Karen -- packed up and moved to the United States. His two sisters stayed behind in South Africa and the parents rotated between hemispheres. The Scotts picked the Phoenix area and Tayler went to Notre Dame Prep High School in Scottsdale.

"We decided if I was going to do this, I was going to have to move to America," Scott said. "We looked at Arizona, found a school, the next day we each packed a bag and left. My father has his own business, occupational health and safety. It's got to the point where he can run it without being there. We were very fortunate that he had that job and he was able to pack up and come with me and pursue my dream."

It is not easy leaving a country you love and a comfortable home in the Roodepoort section of the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area.

"South Africa a very beautiful place," Scott said. "The landscape of South Africa is beautiful. I'm kind of out north in the grassland. If you drive an hour and a half away you'll be in the wilds with the animals. Everywhere you go in South Africa is going to be beautiful. You want mountains, there are fantastic mountains. Cape Town is beautiful place on the beach."

Scott played in high school and went to as many baseball camps as possible. One was run by former Rangers pitching coach Tom House. The work paid off because he was drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft.

He was released by the Cubs at the end of Spring Training in 2016, but stayed after his dream. He pitched 17 games for the Sioux City Explorers in the independent American Association, and a 1.88 ERA earned him a Minor League contract with the Brewers. He signed on July 6, 2016, and was traded to the Rangers last summer in a deal for reliever Jeremy Jeffress.

Now he is in big league camp as a non-roster invitee, hoping to earn a spot in the bullpen.

"It's a situation like any other," Scott said. "Just trying to make the team or try to help any way I can if I get called up. With the trade, they showed a lot of interest in me, so they obviously have a plan for me."

The race to be the first South African pitcher in the Major Leagues continues.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Tayler Scott