By Rob Rains
GLENDALE, Ariz. – A lot has changed in the life of Lars Nootbaar over the last year.
Twelve months ago, Nootbaar was getting up at 4 a.m. six days a week to clock in 45 minutes later to his job at an aerospace engineering company. He was taking a full load of college classes and trying to mix in workouts when he could while his baseball career was on hold because of the pandemic.
Nootbaar says if he had been asked then to look into his future, it would have been “far fetched” to predict everything that he has experienced in that short span of time – on and off the field.
Even if Nootbaar had envisioned that he would make his major-league debut for the Cardinals in 2021, the fact that he would now be applying for a trademark on his last name and talking about creating candy bars under that name might have left him speechless.
“I would have been very delighted but it probably was very far fetched,” Nootbaar said. “It’s cool, and something I’m happy about.”
There is no better illustration of how Nootbaar’s life has changed than the realization that, after the Cardinals’ season ended, he came to Arizona to play in the Fall League and when those games are over, he will go back home to southern California with a far different off-season schedule.
“I am looking forward to working out with (Nolan) Arenado this off-season for a little bit,” Nootbaar said. “It’s cool now that we are in a position where I view him as a teammate and a good friend. We text almost daily.”
It didn’t take long for Nootbaar to become a fan favorite in St. Louis, with the chants of “Noot” coming from the stands almost every time he got a hit or made an outstanding defensive play.
That popularity is what has led to the off-the-field developments to perhaps one day put Nootbaar in a place to capitalize on his unique last name.
“I think right now we are doing it to hold it just in case, for protection purposes,” Nootbaar said. “I haven’t really thought much about it. I had dinner Wednesday night with my agent and we talked about it briefly.
“Once the Fall league is over we will sit down more and talk about it. My dad and my agent have been doing most of the work behind it, getting the legs underneath it. The candy bar we are envisioning, we haven’t done much on that yet.
“We’ve had a ton of suggestions from people so we definitely have a lot of options.”
Those discussions will come in time, but for now, Nootbaar is concentrating on the reasons he went to the Fall league, to try to get extra and more consistent at-bats after a regular season that gave him only limited opportunities in his role as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder.
“The Cardinals approached me about it, and I agreed it probably would be best for me,” Nootbaar said. “I wanted to take some at-bats and work on some things within my approach and my swing. It’s a little more of a relaxed environment where you can work on some things.”
Specifically, Nootbaar wanted to see if could generate more power in his Fall league at-bats, after hitting five homers in 109 at-bats for the Cardinals in the regular season.
Through his first 10 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs, Nootbaar has hit five homers, the fifth coming on Friday when he hit for the cycle. The four-hit day raised his Fall League average to .375 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
The combination of his success with the Cardinals, and so far in Arizona also has put Nootbaar in a good place mentally as he shifts his preparation for the 2022 season.
After coming into this season wondering what playing in the majors might be like, he now knows – and he knows he’s good enough to play there.
“Every single level you play at you wonder, does that play at the next level?” Nootbaar said. “Being able to go up there and square up and match up with the other guys, it definitely takes some of the question about if it will play out of it.”
It also has changed what he will be doing over the winter.
“A few of the guys I worked with (last year) came to the wild-card game, which was pretty cool,” Nootbaar said. “I probably knew about 300 people who went to that game, but I didn’t leave that many tickets for sure. It was a crazy environment. Being on the wrong side of the game was tough, but the experience in itself was something special.”
That also would be an accurate description of his life the last 12 months.
“I’m very grateful for the year that I had,” Nootbaar said. “It was a little bit of a roller-coaster. It’s definitely something I will look back on and appreciate a little more, but it was great. I learned a ton, and that’s the biggest thing for me that I’m taking away from it.”
When he gets back home, there might come a day when Nootbaar will drop in at the Northrop Grumman facility in his hometown of El Segundo. It will be another chance to reflect on all that has changed in his life.
“Maybe I will make an appearance and do some work – just for a day,” Nootbaar said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Nootbaar can do that knowing he definitely has a clearer of his future now than he did a year ago.
“There’s more opportunity to go forward from here,” he said.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports