The “pepper grinder” that the St. Louis Cardinals adopted last season is now a sensation in Japan.
With the World Baseball Classic underway, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar had a chance to display the Cardinals’ “pepper grinder” celebration from last season on an international stage. Now, something mostly just Cardinals fans knew about has become a Japanese craze among young athletes and media personalities.
But Japanese baseball fans aren’t just going to heap adoration on a Cardinals player who never played in their country and who, despite the analytics, isn’t a superstar…yet. No, this didn’t take off across the Pacific until Japanese baseball hero Shohei Ohtani made the pepper-grinding gesture after walloping a two-run bomb.
Nootbaar, already a favorite among Cardinals fans for his contagiously positive personality, is making his mark overseas. Nootbaar and Ohtani have become fast friends; there have already been pictures showing the two together and Ohtani teaching Nootbaar his splitter grip. According to Ohtani, he would go with whatever celebration Nootbaar came up with was the appropriate moment to strike, and the one Nootbaar decided on was clearly a hit.
Nootbaar made his own mark on the game, picking up two knocks with an RBI and a run scored in Japan's exhibition victory against the Hanshin Tigers, but Ohtani will be the one who receives the accolades among fans in Japan, both for hitting the home run and for popularizing the pepper grinder.
Popularity is fickle, and the creators of worldwide phenomena often don't receive the credit they deserve; I doubt many people acknowledge Elisha Gray for the telephone or Humphry Davy for the lightbulb. Ohtani has the superstardom and the name recognition (although Lars Nootbaar is a pretty recognizable name in itself), so although some Cardinals fans might not like that Ohtani has inadvertently co-opted the celebration that the Cardinals invented, they still have Nootbaar, and the kind of energy he brings to the team is undoubtedly beneficial.
By the way, the pepper grinder celebration wasn't created by Nootbaar either; it was actually Andrew Knizner who came up with it. See what I mean about people not getting the credit they deserve?