Clayton Uyechi made the most of his time with the UH-Hilo baseball team and the opportunities that followed.
The Waianae, Oahu, product pitched for the Vulcans from 2006 to 2009, earned a kinesiology degree and later pitched in independent ball.
He was fortunate in his timing at UHH, which transitioned from an NCAA Division I Independent to the Division II PacWest Conference in 2007. When the Vulcans were on the Division I level, they played big-name programs such as Oregon State, Wichita State, Arizona State and Kansas.
In 2006, he went 4-1 with a 9.25 ERA in 10 games. He had a memorable debut against Wichita State.
In the Curious case of where are they now?, Uyechi, 33, is back home in Waianae and runs Clayton Uyechi Strength and Conditioning at a gym based out of Waipio.
After UHH, he pitched for the Maui Na Koa Ikaika and Winnipeg Goldeneyes in Canada, following his former Vulcan pitching coach, Brendan Sagara.
Then he came home and worked at a job that he didn’t love at a graphics department.
“I was working and still training kids at parks and schools after work,” he said. “I got enough clientele and found this place in Waipio. I tried to get that spot and clients kept coming.”
He’s been in Waipio for six years and has networked to build his customer base, working with Benny Agbayani, Mark Hirayama and Rico Garcia, from the San Francisco Giants who went to Hawaii Pacific.
Uyechi has about 155 customers but the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down his gym. He’s doing Zoom meetings and video chats with clients, working out of his home in Waianae. When his wife Chelsea gets home, they can talk shop. She’s an athletic trainer at Waianae High. They have a 15-month daughter, Chaney, and a built-in support system. Chelsea’s parents are retired and live nearby.
Agbayani is making his name in the softball community. He coached Iolani to the HHSAA state title in 2019, and his daughter Aleia signed with Cal.
In 2014, he started to take his players to CUSC to train.
“Benny was coaching his Crush softball club and had three teams, younger, middle and older girls,” Uyechi said. “He was sending 15 girls at a time, a lot of them. They all went to different high schools now. Only a few of the originals come in. They won the state title last year, and I like to see them do well.”
Uyechi also got players from Kapolei youth coach Sam Kela and Mililani High coach Mark Hirayama.
“All of Sam’s sons trained with me. He first started to bring them in to parks,” Uyechi said. “I’ve been very fortunate to train people I knew.
“Rico increased his velocity by 5 mph. He’s sitting 96 to 98 mph and doing really well. We worked on his mobility and rotator cuff, legs and core. He felt stronger and recovered faster from his bullpen sessions.”
Uyechi puts an emphasis on monitoring and likes to engage in dialogue about how his players are feeling and recovering.
Li’I Pontes, a sophomore right-hander at UH-Manoa, also joined and ticked up his velocity to 93 mph.
Uyechi does Zoom with his younger kids at 4 p.m. and has a video chat with the high school players later.
“I just want everybody to be accountable, no sense in taking time off from a workout,” he said. “It’s so hard to be consistent when a coach is not around. But if you want to get to the next level, you have to work hard no matter what.”
That work ethic was reinforced when he spent time with Sagara, now a pitching coordinator for the Texas Rangers.
“Brendan helped me a lot and was one of the best coaches I played for,” Uyechi said. “He let’s you grow up on your own. We’d talk about baseball or life in general. He was someone you wanted to play for no matter where you were at.”
Reality hit home for the 5-foot-9 Uyechi during a pro tryout after his second year in indy ball. He pitched two innings and struck out five but didn’t get a call back. Two competitors, both 6-3 and hard throwers, got signed despite command issues.
“They were throwing 96, 97, 98 mph. But they walked a lot of guys,” he said. “You can’t teach that kind of velocity. It was disappointing, and I wanted to go back home.
“I loved training and working out. The only thing on my mind was helping the next generation. I’m happy. I’m happy for those guys still playing. I still love the game.”
His favorite team is the Atlanta Braves for a simple reason.
“Those were the only games you could watch on Channel 51,” he said. “I’d watch Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. They had such smooth mechanics. Those were the only games on TV you could watch.”
When he’s not reminiscing about old Chipper Jones games, Uyechi is building his customer base. He gets his business through word of mouth and Facebook and Instagram when he helps one player and word gets around.
“I can’t wait until the quarantine is lifted,” he said. “I’d like to get back in the gym. I’m always video chatting or messaging. It’s tough. The hard part is staying home and doing things on the computer. I’m hands on and better in that environment.”