When the Cardinals traded 2021 Gold Glover Harrison Bader to the Yankees and moved 23-year-old rising star Dylan Carlson to center field, it left a sizable hole in right field.
At that time, the Cardinals figured they would fill the position with a piecemeal of players based on matchups, sprinkling in some rookie slugger Juan Yepez here, some utility man Brendan Donovan and veteran Corey Dickerson there. And if the athletic and energetic Lars Nootbaar ever figured out a way to put it all together, he might have a chance to elbow his way into that mix and earn playing time.
Not only has Nootbaar earned playing time in right field, but he’s appeared to have locked down the position for the foreseeable future with his stellar performance of late. In addition to making a couple of spectacular defensive plays in a three-game series sweep of the Yankees from Aug. 5-7, Nootbaar went into Thursday with a .395 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. In that stretch, he’s had one home run, two triples, three doubles and seven RBIs. More importantly, he’s had more walks (15) than strikeouts (13).
Nootbaar, who has affectionately become known as "NOOOOOOOT" in St. Louis whenever he does anything, sat down with MLB.com for a few questions:
MLB.com: So many kids grow up dreaming of playing Major League Baseball, but at what age did you think it was possible for you to make it to this level?
Nootbaar: At a very young age. This has been my dream. Then once I got into high school and started getting recruited a little bit and pro scouts were talking to me, that’s when the dream went full-speed ahead. Not sure what I would be doing otherwise, because baseball was always at the top of my list. When you realize it can become a reality, it’s all you want to do.
MLB.com: Many of your teammates have hidden talents, such as Tommy Edman being able to solve a Rubik’s Cube in 90 seconds and Tyler O’Neill playing the piano. What’s your hidden talent that nobody knows about?
Nootbaar: I think a hidden talent that I have is that I can actually get Paul Goldschmidt to giggle every once in a while. It’s timing, and it’s all in the timing with that guy. I don’t know if he “lets me” tweak him, but I do it from time to time. But I definitely don’t overstep my boundaries with him, for sure.
MLB.com: Your energy, smile and positivity are infectious, especially inside a baseball clubhouse where the grind of a 162-game season can wear on players, managers and coaches. Where does it come from and have you always been this chipper?
Nootbaar: I’d say I’ve always been this way. I was the third child in my family, so I was always the rambunctious one. My older brother was such a great role model and my sister was the straight-A student and class president type, so you always need one in the family who is going to be a little different and ruffle some feathers at times. So yeah, I’d say that fits my personality.
MLB.com: Your father, Charlie, is an American of Dutch, English and German descent, and your mother, Kumi Enokida, is Japanese, and they met while students at California Polytechnic State University. How often do people ask you about your name, mispronounce your name and yell out "NOOOOOOOT?"
Nootbaar: Every time I met somebody, that’s the first thing they ask. Whether it was a present or a trophy or whatever I had more misspellings of my name than anybody else. Seriously, the "Noot" cheers are unbelievable, and it puts newfound energy in me every time I hear it. It’s awesome and I really feed off it. Nobody had ever called me "Noot" before, but everybody calls me that now, and I think it’s awesome.
MLB.com: What’s your favorite baseball moment to this point?
Nootbaar: Clinching that playoff berth last season -- especially with the way we did it -- was pretty cool for me. It was kind of an up-and-down season for us, but then to go on that winning streak like we did was amazing. To be a part of that was unbelievable. It didn’t look great for a while, but then when we clinched -- I wouldn’t say it was relief, but it was a moment where our hard work paid off, and it was so fun to experience.