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Language barriers in professional baseball are not uncommon by any stretch of the imagination, but Lars Nootbaar is the rare example of an American struggling to understand his teammates. Typically, it is the international stars that play in the MLB who have to overcome the gap in communication.
Take Munenori Kawasaki’s legendary interviews, for example.
The former Mariners, Blue Jays and Cubs infielder always had the best soundbites.
With that being said, and Kawasaki’s solution to cramps as an example, there are certainly more than a few exceptions. American players often go overseas, where they struggle to pick up the native tongue.
That is what is currently happening with Nootbaar at the World Baseball Classic.
The 25-year-old St. Louis Cardinals outfielder is playing for team Japan. His mother, Kumi Enokida, is Japanese, which allows him to play for her country.
However, Lars Nootbar doesn’t know much of his mother’s language.
His dad is American, he grew up in El Segundo, California and went to college at USC before joining the Cardinals organization. He knows bits and pieces, but never took the time to dive in head-first and is nowhere near fluent.
I am going to try (and learn the language) a little bit. Obviously it’s going to be tough to learn a language in a month. I’m going to try my best. My mom is singing the Japanese national anthem in the house. I’m repeating it. We’re just doing little stuff like that.— Lars Nootbaar on how he prepared to play for Team Japan, via the Japan Times
In preparation for the WBC, Nootbaar joined Team Japan for a string of exhibition games earlier this month. His knowledge of Japanese has not seen much improvement.
Prior to a game over the weekend, Kazuma Okamoto addressed the team in the dugout. Nootbaar hilariously caught absolutely none of it. Not one word.
Although Nootbaar is struggling to understand what his teammates are saying when they speak only in Japanese, baseball is a universal language. Team Japan is glad to have the MLBer on their roster and manager Hideki Kuriyama is not worried about the gap in communication.
Nootbaar and his teammates will begin their WBC title chase with China on Thursday.