Cards' Nootbaar hits for cycle in AFL

October 30th, 2021

It’s a rare time when hitting for the cycle is a little disappointing.

Cardinals outfielder came to the plate with a runner in scoring position in the top of the 11th inning, his Glendale Desert Dogs in a 5-5 tie with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Arizona Fall League games only go 11 innings and the league puts a runner at second base to start each extra frame, so Nootbaar knew this was a chance to win the game. What he didn’t know was that he had doubled, tripled and homered prior to his one-out at-bat.

He singled softly to left, moving runner  to third, where he was stranded. 

“I would’ve rather doubled in the run,” Nootbaar laughed. “I didn’t know I was going for it until my dugout went crazy and the first baseman actually told me. I was more thinking one out, runner on second base, I didn’t really get him in. I obviously got on and moved him but didn’t really do the job, so I was kind of wondering why the dugout went crazy. Then the first baseman told me, and our first base coach let me know, too. So I thought, 'Well, that’s pretty cool.'”

Nootbaar is fairly certain that this represents his first cycle ever, a nice feather in his cap even though Scottsdale ended up winning the game, 6-5, in the bottom of the 11th. He wouldn’t even have had the chance if it weren’t for his own power in the ninth inning. Trailing 5-4, Nootbaar led off the frame with a homer against Rays right-hander Carlos Garcia.

“I got quick-pitched the first pitch. The second pitch missed away,” Nootbaar said. “I was telling myself, 'Just get something in the zone.' Don’t get cheated in that situation. You want to get your 'A' swing off. I got a fastball to hit, skied it a little bit, but thankfully got it down the line where it could sneak out.”

It was Nootbaar’s fifth home run of the fall, putting him back into a tie with Red Sox infielder . With the double and triple earlier, Nootbaar’s four hits brings his AFL line to a robust .375/.490/.900. His 1.390 OPS leads the league. He and the Cardinals might have a hitting coach Nootbaar called “his buddy from back home” to thank.

During the COVID-induced shutdown in 2020, Nootbaar worked with old friend John Soteropulos. Nootbaar feels the work done then helped him hit .308/.404/.496 in 35 Triple-A games and allowed him to spend as much time as he did in the big leagues, including landing on the Cardinals’ Wild Card Game roster. Soteropulos helped out again with a trip to Arizona. The pair would head to the batting cages in the morning before an AFL night game, getting in as many as 150 swings before hitting the field.

“I flew him out for 10 days and we were working in the morning, kind of maintaining what I was doing,” Nootbaar said. “Honing in on my approach, on what I’ve been working on this past season and during COVID and implementing it in these games.”

That, plus consistent at-bats for the first time in a long time after serving in a bench role in St. Louis have been exactly what the doctor ordered.

“Coming out here, playing often, getting multiple at-bats in a game definitely helps,” Nootbaar said. “Obviously, these games are very meaningful, but it’s also a nice environment where I can work on some things and not stress that much about it. I’m happy where I am, but a lot of things I still have to work on.”