How Lars Nootbaar – and his celebration – became a sensation for Japan at the 2023 World Baseball Classic
As expected, Team Japan blasted their way through Pool B this week to secure a place in the Quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. Japan scored a perfect 4-0 in the pool game, beating their opponents 38-8. They meet Italy in the quarter-finals on Thursday. The winner moves on and the loser goes home. Japan won the 2006 and 2009 WBCs and finished third in 2013 and 2017.
The one-of-a-kind Shohei Ohtani, of course, starred in the first round. He went 6 for 12 with three doubles, a home run and seven walks at the plate during pool play and also batted five of four scoreless innings in his start against China. Japan’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Kensuke Kondoh won 7/15 with four doubles and a homer in pool play. He was excellent too.
Japan has another player starring in the WBC: Lars Nootbaar. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder went 6 to 14 with two stolen bases and more walks (four) than strikeouts (three) in Japan’s four first-round games. He took the lead ahead of Kondoh and Ohtani and seems to be in the thick of it at every rally in Japan and he excelled in midfield too.
Nootbaar is the first non-Japanese-born player to ever play for the Japan national team. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, but is able to play for Japan because his mother, Kumiko, is from Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture. Nootbaar’s middle name is Taylor-Tatsuji, and his maternal grandfather, Tatsuji Enokida, still resides in Higashi-Matsuyama.
Team Japan and the Japanese fans have embraced Nootbaar. During practice, players wore T-shirts with “Tachan,” Nootbaar’s nickname, written in Japanese, and chants of “Noot! Noot! Noot!” was heard during the first-round matches at the Tokyo Dome. Nootbaar’s peppermill celebration with the Cardinals has caught on and fans are now bringing peppermills to games.
“We wanted a little hit celebration to do something,” Nootbaar told MLB.com during a pre-WBC friendly with Japan. “We didn’t really know what to come up with. And so[Ohtani]said, ‘Whatever I go out there and do first, that’s what we’re going to roll with.’ So I went out in the first inning (and got a hit), we got the pepper mill out there. And you know, we kind of stuck with it.
The fact that Nootbaar is playing in the WBC, let alone for a powerhouse like Japan, is remarkable. At the beginning of his career he was considered a marginal phenomenon. It wasn’t until he made some swing changes for two years that he broke out. Nootbaar, 25, spent some time at Triple-A early last year. He finished the season with a .228/.340/.448 line and 14 homers in 108 games with St. Louis. Now he plays in the WBC and in front of his family in Japan.
“Being in the Tokyo Dome for the first time ever and representing Japan is quite a surreal experience,” Nootbaar recently told the Associated Press. “…(my family is) proud. It’s also cool for me to be able to do that for them. I don’t get to talk to them very often, see them very often. Being able to connect myself and my family together from different sides of the world world. This is a very special moment for me.”
Nootbaar and Japan meet Italy in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Japan is seeking its third WBC title and is attempting to become the second team to remain undefeated in the WBC and join the Dominican Republic 2013 roster.
https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/how-lars-nootbaar-and-his-celebration-became-a-sensation-for-japan-in-2023-world-baseball-classic/ How Lars Nootbaar – and his celebration – became a sensation for Japan at the 2023 World Baseball Classic