May 24, 2024

This tale is an excerpt from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the entire newsletter, click here. Also, subscribe to receive it delivered to your inbox on a regular schedule.

ST. LOUIS — Lars Nootbaar, who grew up in El Segundo, Calif., with elder brother Nigel, recalls his parents enforcing one strict rule: no matter how many sports they participated in, they were only allowed one pair of footwear per school year.

Nootbaar, who now has a lucrative endorsement agreement with adidas, can’t help but grin when he recalls his early days of having to make one pair of shoes last the entire 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 remarked with a grin on his face “But I won’t put them on a one-shoe limit.”

 

While luring Nootbaar with the red carpet treatment in Tokyo this winter, adidas defeated Mizuno in a hard contested campaign to make the Cardinals lefty hitter the face of the company’s baseball marketing in Japan. Nootbaar’s fame in that country has skyrocketed in the year since he collaborated with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to help Japan win the World Baseball Classic in 2023.

Why, just four years ago, when the 2020 Minor League season was canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Nootbaar was doing manual labor on fighter jets while working for an aerospace company. And as recently as 2022, he was back in the Minor Leagues after a rough start with the Cardinals.

Fast forward to 2024, when Nootbaar is set to launch his own shoe line, and his face is already on nearly as many billboards in Japan as Ohtani, the Dodgers phenom with the $700 million contract. Nootbaar, 26, still finds it shocking and humbling.

“I owe everything to baseball,” explained Nootbaar. “It’s been an incredible trip, and hopefully it’s not even close to ending. The past year has been incredible for me. A ball, glove, and bat have transformed my life.

“I take none of this for granted. Everything that has changed in my life, including the opportunities that have arisen, has been rather wonderful. These kinds of opportunities do not come along very often, and I want to make the most of them.

Nootbaar will get the option to build his own shoe brand. While in Japan, adidas created unique molds of Nootbaar’s feet and asked him what he looked for most in baseball spikes. After donning a pair of white leather spikes last week that paid homage to Hall of Fame trailblazer Jackie Robinson, Nootbaar wore a pair of red and gray cleats with his name on the side.

Having a significant say in a new shoe line that children may want their parents to purchase for them is somewhat surreal for Nootbaar, who is still striving to establish himself as an everyday standout with the Cardinals. This season, Nootbaar has played in only nine games after fracturing two ribs in a strange incident in which his own elbow poked into his abdomen near the left-field wall during a Spring Training game. As it turns out, his monster home run in his debut MLB game last week in Arizona — a towering 438-foot rocket — was the struggling Redbirds’ most recent long ball over an eight-game span.

To lift his spirits at this difficult moment for the Cardinals, Nootbaar only needs to think of his own shoe brand, which will be available in stores across Japan soon.

“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,” Nootbaar went on to say. “For me, what’s important is the colorway of the shoe, the comfort and making sure it’s a functional shoe.”

What would that El Segundo boy with the dusty, worn-out sneakers have said years ago if he had been told that a brand believed in him enough to showcase his own line of shoes?

“I believe that is 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.”

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