Kumiko Nootbaar, the mother of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars, is hoping her son can help propel Japan to its third World Baseball Classic championship next month -- and send manager Hideki Kuriyama flying.
Lars is the first player named to represent Japan in the WBC solely through his ancestry. Now Kumiko dreams her son will come full circle and join the championship celebration on March 21 by tossing Kuriyama skyward in the Japanese "doage" ceremony.
"The United States doesn't have a doage culture. It would be amazing if he can win it all and toss skipper Kuriyama in the air," she said recently at her home near Los Angeles.
Kumiko, 57, met her future husband Charlie while studying in the United States. Lars grew up in El Segundo, California, in a home that had bat-and-ball sports in its DNA.
Charlie, 56, played baseball until university while Kumiko played softball at her high school in Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo. Their elder son Nigel, four years Lars' senior, got as high as Single-A ball as a pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
Lars began playing sports as a five-year-old and juggled baseball and American football until high school. This caused a tug of war between the University of Southern California's baseball and football teams for his services, with baseball winning out.
The youngest Nootbaar was picked in the eighth round of MLB's 2018 draft out of USC, and made his MLB debut for the Cardinals in 2021. But his all-American success story retains a Japanese flavor.
The entrance hall of the Nootbaar family home has a space for people to remove their shoes, something integral to Japanese dwellings but rare in America.
Like his elder siblings, Lars is fond of ramen, while vinegar and hot sesame oil are prerequisites for eating Japanese "gyoza" pot-sticker dumplings.
Part of Lars' middle name, Taylor-Tatsuji, comes from Kumiko's father, 84-year-old Tatsuji Enokida, who lives in Saitama.
"I thought it was improbable," she said of her son's call-up to Kuriyma's Samurai Japan roster. "I was happy. I was literally jumping for joy."
Charlie, who has his own long connection with Japan, showed some awareness of the nation's small-baseball sensibilities by saying he hopes Lars will contribute any way he can to victory, whether it be just a sacrifice bunt or a stolen base.
Baseball: Cardinals' Nootbaar headed for Japan reunion of sorts
Baseball: MLB's Yoshida, Nootbaar named to Japan's WBC roster