Nootbaar's endorsement deal a dream come true

April 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- Growing up alongside older brother Nigel in El Segundo, Calif., remembers his parents having one hard-and-fast rule in their youth: Regardless of how many different sports they played, they got one pair of sneakers per school year -- no exceptions.

Nootbaar, now the recipient of a lucrative endorsement deal with adidas, can’t help but laugh thinking back to those childhood days when he had to make one pair of shoes last all year.

“What’s really nice about this deal is that my parents are going to get some free sneakers now out of the deal, and I was able to get my brother some shoes too, and that’s pretty cool,” Nootbaar said with a big smile. “But I won’t put them on a one-shoe limit.”

While wooing Nootbaar with the red-carpet treatment this past winter in Tokyo, adidas beat out Mizuno in a hotly contested battle to make the Cardinals lefty slugger the face of the company’s baseball marketing in Japan. Nootbaar’s popularity in that country has soared in the year since he teamed with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto and helped Japan win the World Baseball Classic in 2023.

Why, just four years ago, when the 2020 Minor League season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nootbaar was doing manual labor on fighter jets while working for an aeronautical company. And as recently as 2022, he was back in the Minor Leagues following a slow start to the season with the Cardinals.

Fast forward to 2024, and Nootbaar has his own shoe line about to come out and his face is already plastered on nearly as many billboards in Japan as Ohtani, the Dodgers superstar with the $700 million contract. It’s all still somewhat shocking and humbling to the 26-year-old Nootbaar.

“I owe everything to baseball,” said Nootbaar. “It’s been an unbelievable journey and hopefully it’s not even close to being over. This past year has been unbelievable for me. A ball, glove and bat have changed a lot in my life.

“I don’t take any of this for granted. It’s pretty remarkable everything that’s changed in my life and the opportunities that have come along. Not a lot of people get these kinds of opportunities and I just want to take advantage of them the best that I can.”

One opportunity coming up for Nootbaar will be the chance to design his own shoe line. While in Japan, adidas made custom molds of Nootbaar’s feet and they inquired about what he values most in baseball spikes. After wearing a pair of white leather spikes last week that featured a nod to the legacy of Hall of Fame trailblazer Jackie Robinson, Nootbaar donned a pair of red and gray cleats that featured his own name on the side.

Having a major say in a new shoe line that kids might ask their parents to buy for them is somewhat mind-blowing to Nootbaar, who is still trying to establish himself as an everyday standout with the Cardinals. This season, Nootbaar has played in just nine games after fracturing two ribs in a freakish injury when his own elbow jabbed into his abdomen while near the left-field wall in a Spring Training game. As it turns out, his mammoth home run in his first MLB game back last week in Arizona -- a towering 438-foot blast -- has been the slumping Redbirds’ most recent long ball over an eight-game stretch.

To boost his spirits during this tough time for the Cardinals, all Nootbaar has to do is think about his own shoe line debuting soon in stores throughout Japan.

“They let me design the ones that I’m wearing this season, but hopefully in the future we’ll have a true Lars Nootbaar model,” said Nootbaar. “For me, what’s important is the colorway of the shoe, the comfort and making sure it’s a functional shoe.”

What, you might wonder, would that El Segundo kid in the dusty, worn-out shoes have said years ago if he had been told that a company would believe in him so much that they would feature his own line of shoes?

“I think that’s every kid’s dream, and I still have to pinch myself that this is happening,” he said. “I’ll never take for granted just how cool this is.”