• Tuesday, October 16, 2018
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Sports

‘Mr. Komatsubara’ would have loved to see Suzuki get his due

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On baseball fields around the state, where he was a three-decade fixture, and in the major leagues, where both his reports and shipments of macadamia nut chocolates were well received, the late Walter Isamu Komatsubara was known simply as "Wally."

But at the Suzuki household in Kahului, he was — and steadfastly remains — "Mr. Komatsubara."

"He’d say, ‘Please call me Wally’ and I’d tell him, ‘That’s the way I was taught to show respect, Mr. Komatsubara,’ " recalls Warren Suzuki, the 57-year old father of Oakland A’s catcher Kurt. "So it is always Mr. Komatsubara."

The Suzukis believe deference is due for the way Komatsubara, who once was just a casual acquaintance, went out of his way in 2001 to counsel their then-high school-age son Kurt about college as a path to the pros.

Funeral services are Saturday for Komatsubara, who died last month at age 81 after a 16-year bout with cancer. It is the generosity of spirit with which Komatsubara went about his nearly 30 years as a scout for several major league teams — as much as his eye for talent — that will be honored.

After a 29-year career with the Honolulu Fire Department, where he rose to the rank of captain, Komatsubara found both a passion and a calling as a "checker" and later a scout for Kansas City, Milwaukee, Seattle, California and Boston, which awarded him two World Series rings.

"His kindness was second to none, as he always remembered to send care packages with goodies from Hawaii to many people on the staff who were looking for a taste of Hawaii," recalls Amiel Sawdaye, director of scouting for the Red Sox. "Certainly, he will be remembered as, not only an excellent representative for the Boston Red Sox, but more importantly, as a great friend."

Indeed, it was Komatsubara’s nature to help anyone who asked, be they other scouts, coaches or parents.

"Being from Maui, we didn’t have a lot of experience with the pros and college baseball," Warren Suzuki said. "But Mr. Komatsubara gave us a lot of good advice."

Kurt Suzuki eventually attended Cal State Fullerton, where he became an All-American catcher. When the 2004 draft rolled around, Komatsubara’s Red Sox had Kurt in their sights, debating whether to take him or Dustin Pedroia of Arizona State. They eventually grabbed Pedroia two picks before Oakland snapped up the Baldwin High graduate in the second round.

In a letter written after Kurt made it to the majors, the family told Komatsubara, "Your recommendation to Kurt to attend college … really helped him in maturing as a person and a ballplayer. Kurt would not be where he is today without the help and guidance you provided."

In the forthcoming book, "My Field of Dreams" Komatsubara wrote, "Today Kurt is the starting catcher for the Oakland A’s and I’m looking forward to the day that he … gets what he really deserves (in the way of a contract)."

Last week Suzuki did, agreeing to one of the most lucrative deals ever given a player from Hawaii, reported as a four-year $16.25 million extension with the A’s.

"I wish his grandfather (Masao) and Mr. Komatsubara could have been here to see it," Warren Suzuki said. "I know Mr. Komatsubara would have enjoyed it."

Services on Saturday will be at Mililani Mortuary Mauka Chapel with a 10 a.m. visitation and 11 a.m. memorial service.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

 

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