The Cruel Final Moments of the Scout Who Made Yu Darvish a Professional Baseball Player | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Cruel Final Moments of the Scout Who Made Yu Darvish a Professional Baseball Player

A scout who led Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani, and many other famous players to the world of professional baseball died suddenly in 2010, about 10 days after contracting a "man-eating bacteria".

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Mr. Yasuaki Imanari, three days before being hospitalized. His health wasn’t bad up until then, as he was reportedly saying he wanted to go to the golf driving range.

“The father, who had such good color, became like a different person in just two hours. At first, only the fingertips turned purple, but it quickly spread to the wrists. His hands swelled up like gloves. Eventually, his feet and face swelled too. It was cruel.”

On March 2, ’22, Yasuaki Imanari (66), a scout for the Nippon-Ham Fighters who died suddenly from “Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome,” also known as the “flesh-eating bacteria,” was quietly reflected upon by his son Ryota (36), who played as a catcher for the Nippon-Ham Fighters and Hanshin Tigers.

Yasuaki, who shone as a catcher twice in college championships during his days at Komazawa University but gave up on turning pro due to injury, joined the Hanshin Tigers as a scout in ’78 after graduating from college. He contributed to the acquisition of prominent players who continue to be active in leadership roles, such as Katsuo Hirata, the head coach of the first team (64), and Yutaka Wada, the second team manager (61). From ’03, he worked as a scout for the Nippon-Ham Fighters and played a major role in acquiring players like Yu Darvish (37) and Shohei Ohtani (29), who now represent the majors.

In September 2004, just before Yu Darvish was drafted, FRIDAY magazine published smoking suspicion photos from within the school. Amid concerns about his behavior, which made every team hesitant about drafting him, the Nippon-Ham Fighters succeeded in selecting him solely due to Mr. Imanari’s keen insight.

“My father, who rose early every morning, went to Tohoku High School one day at 3 a.m. There, he saw Mr. Darvish running alone on the field at dawn. Knowing his dedication to baseball, my father reportedly advised the team, saying that he’s not a bad person at heart, so they should draft him.”

Energetic as ever, Mr. Imanari participated in the Nippon-Ham Fighters’ Okinawa camp from February 1st as usual, even in the year of his passing in 2022. However, something unusual happened after he returned home around the 20th.

“My father, who lived alone in Saitama, was struck by severe diarrhea and vomiting after returning home but didn’t go to the hospital. Ten years ago, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and given a terminal prognosis, he recovered completely, so he had confidence in his physical strength and decided to wait and see how he felt.”

However, the next morning, he didn’t recover, and he was immediately transferred to the intensive care unit when he went to the hospital with the help of a friend. Despite efforts to recover his lowered blood pressure and persistent low-grade fever, after three to four days, his condition worsened again. As it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, only a limited number of family members could enter the hospital room. Representing the family, his eldest son, Yuta (38, a councilor in Fujimi City, Saitama Prefecture), continued to watch over his father’s condition and received a grim prognosis from the attending physician.

“Because there’s no blood pressure to circulate blood to the extremities, if the numbers don’t recover within 72 hours, amputation may be necessary.”

At that time, Mr. Imanari was already infected with streptococcal bacteria, and necrosis of his limbs and other parts was progressing rapidly. As Ryota mentioned earlier, his condition deteriorated rapidly. After returning from Okinawa, he passed away in just 10 days. Ryota couldn’t be present for his father’s final moments due to his baseball duties.

This year marks the third anniversary of Mr. Yasuaki Imanari’s passing, and the number of patients with “Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome” is increasing at a record pace surpassing last year’s figures. According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, there were 941 domestic patients last year. As of May 5th this year, there have been 801 cases, approaching last year’s number of patients.

Dr. Yasutaka Mizuno, director of the Global Healthcare Clinic, explains the dangers of the “flesh-eating bacteria” that claimed Mr. Imanari’s life.

“An infection caused by Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, especially with severe symptoms, is referred to as such. Typical initial symptoms include swelling of the limbs, but before that, symptoms resembling influenza such as fever, chills, muscle pain, and diarrhea may occur. Due to its aggressive nature, it can cause necrotizing fasciitis, rapidly destroying muscle and skin tissue within hours. Delayed treatment can lead to septic shock, resulting in multiple organ failure and death. Mr. Imanari’s case is presumed to be consistent with this.”

Streptococcus bacteria are known as a cause of children’s throat infections and are ubiquitous, but why the severe manifestation, with a mortality rate of 30%, occurs is not fully understood. Dr. Mizuno continues:

“Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can significantly increase the chance of survival. Since Streptococcus bacteria are part of the normal flora, it’s essential to be prepared with the mindset that when it happens, it happens. I have rarely heard of cases where it becomes severe due to airborne transmission. Most cases are believed to result from infection through wounds, such as injuries. Therefore, it’s crucial to immediately disinfect any wounds to prevent the entry of the causative bacteria. If you experience high fever after an injury or notice swelling from the wound, please inform the hospital of the possibility of infection. By raising suspicion early, physicians can increase the likelihood of avoiding the worst outcomes.”

Ryota reflects:

“I often wonder what would have happened if my father had gone to the hospital on that day when he started feeling unwell. It’s also a regret that I couldn’t directly express my gratitude to him.”

I strongly hope that others don’t have to experience this sense of regret.

Yasuaki Imanari during his time as a Hanshin Tigers scout. His eldest son, Yuta (7), and Ryota (4) are wearing matching sweaters with the Hanshin mascot, “Trucky.”
Ryota, just after being drafted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2005 during his third year at Urawa Gakuin, poses for a commemorative photo with his mother, Yasuko (left), and father.
The day his father passed away coincided with Ryota’s debut as a commentator for a Nippon-Ham Fighters first-team game. “I think my father would have been angry if I had declined due to nursing,” he reflects.

From the May 31, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Courtesy of Ryota Imanari (1st to 3rd photos) Kei Kato (4th photo)

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