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In 2006, at about the same time the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were watching Tomoya Yagi, who would later be named Pacific League Rookie of the Year, and a right-handed fireballer named Yu Darvish develop on the mound, another pitching prospect was at a crossroads.

Yoshio Itoi, once a promising hurler signed in 2002 out of Kinki University, had hit a wall in his quest to pitch in the professional ranks. So in 2006 the Fighters told him it was time for a change, either in position or profession.

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