O's get world-class draft pick in 'Pappy'

June 21, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

TORONTO -- He's the pride of Montreal, the pride of the Congo, and maybe soon the pride of Baltimore, too.

His name is Ntema Ndungidi -- that's ENN-tema DOON-guee-dee -- and the Orioles want to make him the first African-born major-leaguer.

"Pappy," that's what everyone calls the 6-foot-2, 160-pound switch-hitting outfielder, whom the Orioles took with the 36th overall pick in the amateur draft.

Pappy is a mere pup -- he just turned 18 in March. But yesterday, he hit two homers during batting practice in his first appearance in a major-league uniform.

Five members of the Orioles' front office greeted him at SkyDome. Pappy's father, Ne-Nsoko Ndungidi, sat in the dugout snapping pictures.

"He's the best high school position player I've seen in Canada since [Larry] Walker," Orioles scout Wayne Norton said.

He's confident enough, that's for sure.

Pappy popped his head inside manager Davey Johnson's office yesterday and asked, "What position am I playing?"

"You'll be on the bench," Johnson said, smiling back at the kid.

That was fine with Pappy, who soaked in the major-league atmosphere during last night's 3-0 loss to Toronto.

"He was pretty cool. He was real happy," Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar said.

"I just told him, 'Watch the game, learn the game. When you play outfield, go hard to the ball. Never dog it.' "

Pappy is a classic Pat Gillick gamble -- a raw talent with unlimited potential. And he got the classic Gillick treatment yesterday, a welcome fit for a star.

His father sat in a private box with Gillick, assistant GM Kevin Malone, scouting director Gary Nickels, international supervisor Manny Estrada and Norton.

Ne-Nsoko also is Pappy's agent.

"We've got our hands full with him," Gillick said. "Why do you think we've got five guys here? We have to take turns when he sits down."

Gillick presumably was kidding, but Pappy's father carries a briefcase with his son's press clippings, and might prove to be the Scott Boras of the Congo.

"It's tough for him to put all of Africa on his shoulders, but he is able to do that," Ne-Nsoko said. "He is cool. He knows the hope people put on him."

Which people?

"All of Montreal. Latin. Black. The entire baseball community. They told me, his first game in the majors, there will be 20 or 25 buses from Montreal. It will be something else, oh my God."

He's African. He's French-Canadian. He excels at the American national pastime.

And you thought Julio Iglesias had crossover potential.

Hakeem Olajuwon started the African pipeline to the NBA, but Ne-Nsoko said soccer is the big sport in his native land, and no one plays baseball.

Pappy considers himself both Canadian and African. Ne-Nsoko left the former Zaire for Montreal in 1981, and his family followed a year later, when Pappy was 4.

Today, Ne-Nsoko has a master's degree in political science, and is working on his doctorate in sociology. Pappy is the third of four children. The youngest son, Sambu, 12, also plays baseball.

"Pappy said he's even better than he was," Ne-Nsoko said.

If so, the Ndungidis might be the Ripkens of the 21st century.

Pappy grew up like any Canadian kid, playing hockey and baseball. At 15, he settled on baseball, and a local legend was born.

"He's not only a baseball star, he's like a TV star," Ne-Nsoko said. "You will like him. The media like him. In Montreal, he was on TV every day, all the channels."

That's what happens when you hit a home run off a bank of speakers near the top of Olympic Stadium. Walker and Matt Williams are the only major-leaguers who have done it.

"The speaker? The famous one?" Pappy said. "Inside fastball. Bang."

Of course, Pappy's feat came in an amateur game, but a scout in attendance stood up and said, "Ah, I have to make a phone call."

The Expos wanted Pappy, but the Orioles chose him with a sandwich pick they received between the first and second rounds for losing free agent David Wells.

Pappy was their third overall choice, after catcher Jayson Werth and outfielder Darnell McDonald. The Expos, with seven sandwich picks, had the next two selections.

"They're not too happy," Gillick said.

They shouldn't be.

Pappy not only hits monster homers, but also runs the 60 in 6.6 seconds.

"He can run. He can throw. He's a very fluid athlete. He's got great bat speed. There's nothing you don't like about him," Norton said.

The only question now is how quickly the Orioles will sign him.

"Pretty soon, like this weekend," Pappy said.

"He said that two weeks ago," an Orioles official countered.

The Ndungidis will be in Toronto all weekend, so there'll be plenty of time to negotiate.

"I really hope we sign," Ne-Nsoko said. "I want him to start right away."

He's African. He's French-Canadian.

He's perfect for Baltimore, hon.

Pub Date: 6/21/97

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