When Major League Baseball teams sought to evaluate a prospect in Hawaii, one of the first questions their scouting departments invariably asked was:
"What does Wally say?"
Walter "Wally" Isamu Komatsubara, who died last month at age 81 after a 16-year bout with cancer, was a trusted pair of eyes and ears as a talent evaluator and scout for several big league teams over a nearly 30-year stretch.
"The scouts (from the Mainland) all knew him because he was a good judge of talent," recalled Wally Yonamine, a Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame baseball and football player.
"He saw all the games all over the state," said Pal Eldredge, a former local representative for the Major League Scouting Bureau. "He was so well-rounded as a scout. A lot of guys can recognize talent, but he was also able to recognize and judge potential, which is what a good scout needs to be able to do."
After 29 years with the Honolulu Fire Department, where he reached the rank of captain, Komatsubara began a second "career" as a checker and scout for a series of teams including the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, California Angels and Boston Red Sox, whom he wound up a 12-year stay with in 2009.
"He knew every field on the island," Eldredge said.
One reason Komatsubara knew them so well is that he had worked on many of them as a volunteer, renovating fields and teaching groundskeepers how to build mounds. "He believed the best insurance policy for young players was a good, safe field," said George Toma, an NFL and major league field consultant. "He could have done it for major league teams, he was that good."
Komatsubara and Toma worked on Maui’s War Memorial Stadium field to prepare it for the 2001 college football season opener for UH and Montana and at Hans L’ Orange in readying it for the Hawaii Winter Baseball League.
"I knew him for 30 years and we did a lot of fields — football, baseball, you name it — and never once did he ask anything for it," Toma said. "In fact, he often paid out of his own pocket for materials. He was always going out finding and bringing dirt to the high school fields. He was that kind of a man."
Komatsubara was awarded the 2006 Chuck Leahey Memorial Award for contributions to baseball in Hawai’i. He played football and baseball at Waipahu High and boxed and was an Army Korean War veteran.
Komatsubara is survived by his wife, Lillian; three sons, Keith, Kerry and Kell; two sisters, Tomiye Haertig and Janet Abe; and five grandchildren. Services are scheduled for July 31 at Mililani Mortuary Mauka Chapel. Visitation at 10 a.m. and memorial service at 11 a.m.