Why is Lars Nootbaar playing for Japan in WBC? California-born outfielder honoring mother’s heritage
Japan regularly features top-notch native talent on its World Baseball Classic teams. In fact, prior to the 2023 WBC repeat, the Samurai had never fielded a player born outside of Japan as part of their roster for the tournament.
That changed in 2023 when Lars Nootbaar was called upon to help Japan win.
Nootbaar, a 25-year-old Cardinals midfielder, has been named to Team Japan’s roster for the 2023 WBC. He posted a slash of 0.318/0.483/0.318 while performing well on the field during Japan’s run to the championship game.
Now Nootbaar and his teammates will try to get another win to become champions of the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
But as some Team USA fans watch Tuesday night’s game, one question will be on their mind. How is Nootbaar eligible to play for Japan? After all, he was born and raised in El Segundo, California and has never lived in Japan.
The answer to that is simple. It’s about what the WBC allows in its rules and what doesn’t.
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Why is Lars Nootbaar playing for Japan at the World Baseball Classic?
Nootbaar is eligible to play for Japan because he has Japanese roots from his family side.
Kumi Enokida, Nootbaar’s mother, was born and raised in Japan. She came to the United States on a college exchange program and met Nootbar’s father, Charlie, while studying at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
The youngest Nootbar has admitted people are often surprised when he reveals his ethnicity.
“The Nootbaar thing throws everyone for a loop,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June 2021. “But most of my ethnicity comes from my mother’s side.”
In fact, Nootbaar’s mother is pure Japanese, while his father is American of Dutch, English, and German descent. That makes Nootbaar’s ancestry predominantly Japanese.
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How Lars Nootbaar’s parents met
As previously mentioned, Nootbaar’s parents met while they were studying at Cal Poly SLO, where both were students. Kumi was there on an exchange program while Charlie was studying in college.
However, they only got together later. Kumi had returned to Japan and Charlie went to the country to continue his studies. There was just one problem with his plan.
“The host family dropped out at the last second,” Lars Nootbaar told Post-Dispatch.
As such, Charlie called Kumi, who was the only person he knew in Japan, “and they rekindled,” according to Lars Nootbaar, of Charlie spending time with Kumi’s family in Japan.
“They’ve been together ever since. For my father it was a kind of sinking or swimming,” said Nootbaar.
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What are the requirements to represent a country in the WBC?
Baseball keeps its requirements for representing a country in the World Baseball Classic fairly broad.
Of course, players born in a country are eligible to play for that country at the event. However, there are other elements that allow a player to play for another country.
Nootbaar’s case falls under the umbrella requiring either a parent or grandparent to be born in that nation. Other notable methods include living in a country full-time and acquiring citizenship — as Cuban-born outfielder Randy Arozarena did so he could play for Mexico.
If a player is eligible to receive citizenship of a country, they are essentially allowed to represent that country. You don’t even need to get citizenship to be part of the team.
Anyhow, Nootbaar is grateful for his experience playing for Japan. And he said his extended family and Japanese relatives were delighted to see him join the Samurai at WBC 2023.
“They are proud,” Nootbaar said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s also cool for me to be able to do that for them. I can’t talk to them very often, see them very often. To be able to connect myself and my family from opposite sides of the world. It’s a very special moment for me.”