The deepest valley in Ngoepe’s journey came four years ago with the Altoona Curve on a road trip to Akron, Ohio. He had finally advanced to Class AA, the proving ground for elite prospects, but felt completely overmatched at the plate. Worse — much worse — was an urgent phone call from home: His mother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and it was serious.
Ngoepe had managed his homesickness before. (“Gift is a conformist,” Larkin said. “He adapts well.”) But this felt different. He took batting practice in a fog, swinging as hard as he could at every pitch. When a teammate asked what was wrong, Ngoepe came undone.
He fled the field for the clubhouse, falling to the bathroom floor in tears. Prince, then a coordinator of instruction, found him there and let him compose himself. Huntington happened to be in town, and clearly, Prince said, they needed to talk.
“I know I’m not doing too good right now, and if you want to release me, go ahead and do it,” Ngoepe said he told his bosses. “But I need to be home. I need to be…