TOKYO (AP) — Lars Nootbaar’s imaginary pepper mill was the subject of the World Baseball Classic in Japan, but the St. Louis outfielder’s playful gesture. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t seem welcome in Japan’s popular high school baseball tournament.
When the Tohoku High School player twirled his two fists – imitating Nootbaar – after reaching first base on Saturday, the umpire told him to stop.
Hiroshi Sato, manager of Tohoku High School, defended his player. Tohoku lost to Yamanashi Gakuin Senior High School 3-1 at Koshien Stadium in Osaka.
“It’s so popular that the whole nation is talking about it,” Sato told the nationally circulated newspaper Mainichi and other Japanese media.
“The kids are just having fun. Why do adults have to stop it,” said Sato, who played for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.
“There should be more thought about how kids can freely enjoy baseball.”
High school baseball tournaments are extremely popular in Japan. Major leaguers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui started the tournament. San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish, who is on the Japanese national team in the WBC, played for Tohoku.
High school baseball rules tend to curb expressions of emotion, such as a clenched fist after a hit.
“We have always asked high school baseball players to refrain from unnecessary performances and gestures. We understand the feelings of players who want to have fun, but the federation believes that fun should come from the game,” the Japan High School Baseball Association said in a statement.
Taro Kono, who is in Japanese Prime Minister Fumi Kishida’s cabinet, raised the issue of the strict rules on Twitter. Kono was the leading candidate for prime minister when Kishida was elected in late 2021.
Nootbaar’s pepper-grinding imitation was a hit in Japan’s five games at the Tokyo Dome, with television cameras often focusing on Nootbaar’s teammates making the gesture, or his mother Kumiko watching from the stands.
Nootbaar was born in California and is the first to play for the Japanese national baseball team because of his ancestry. His mother is Japanese.
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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama