I sat down for an interview with Tayler Scott, a raw and rare phenomenon from South Africa who started out kicking soccer balls and playing rugby. Baseball is not the typical sport for kids growing up in South Africa, and there has never been a South African to make it to the major leagues, so what is Tayler Scott doing here?
When the players first arrived I had them fill out a short questionnaire just to get a grip on who they are behind the ball and glove. On Scott’s sheet I noticed the word “bayete,” I wondered where exactly the word came from and what it meant. Scott said that one of his family’s close friends in South Africa married a traditional African woman and that he loves ”the tribe she is from. The Zulu tribe. And so he tells me stories of what the warriors did during war and before war. And so the chief before would shout ungakunani. Which means how strong are you. And the warriors would reply bayete. Which means bring on the enemy.” Scott then proceeded to tell me that his father has “ungakunani” tattooed on his arm, while Scott has “bayete” tattooed on his, just another reminder that they are always under the same moon.
Scott got started in baseball when he was about 10 years old. His dad was reading a local paper and came across an ad for baseball. Scott wasn’t looking for a career, just something to keep him busy and out of trouble between his other sport seasons. It didn’t take long for Scott to realize how special the sport was to him. “When I was about 13 or 14, my dad saw that I was better than the kids my age. And by that time I really liked baseball and my dad said if you want to play baseball you have to go to America. So when I was 16 we found a high school in Arizona”
At a young age Scott was on his own. His parents were not able to move along with him and could only stay for a couple months at a time. “They would commute between South Africa and Arizona. When my mom was here my dad would be in South Africa then they would switch off every couple months” His parents are currently in South Africa.
While Scott says the transition was different, he also says that he is used to it now. He is sure it was more difficult on them being apart from each other and as far as he goes, they still visit every couple of months. “In the off season I go home. So it’s not too long that I don’t see them.”
Although Scott misses his home in South Africa, he says that being here is what motivates him to do well. He wants to be the first South African to make it to the major leagues. A big motivation comes from knowing what his parents sacrificed for him to be where he is today and also “knowing that baseball keeps me in America. America is where I want to be.”
I asked Scott what the biggest difference was as far as baseball in South Africa and baseball in America was when he first arrived here and as we all might assume, there are a lot of differences, baseball is a small thing in South Africa, it is not, shall I say, “America’s (South Africa’s) Sport.” In South Africa baseball is more of “a social sport, something fun to do every Sunday. The biggest differences were the amount of baseball played here, the amount of kids that play here, and the skill level, and coaching.” Not exactly the 7 month, 162 game seasons we look forward to here in America.
Scott had much of the same reaction when asked about comparing pro ball to high school ball. “There is no comparison.” Scott didn’t get the jump from high school to college; he was drafted out of high school and is now in his second season with the Cubs. Scott says “Pro ball is exactly how I expected it. The speed of the game increases. The skill level. Every player here was one of the best players on their team in high school or college. Now everyone is kind of the same skill wise. You can’t make mistakes like you did in high school because these hitters will take advantage of it. It’s just so much more exciting.”
With Scott coming from South Africa I wondered if there were stereotypes he had to overcome. I wondered if people doubted Scott for being from an area not known for the sport. Scott said “there will always be people that have their doubts because I haven’t really been playing baseball for that long and because no South African has ever made it to the major leagues. But a lot of people have high hope and are wishing me the best to become the first.” So for scouts, coaches and critics alike, “Bayete,” bring on the enemy.