Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Pirates coach Momose making most of skills

by Wayne Graczyk

He is Japanese, trilingual and works for a major league baseball team. Kiyoshi Momose was the strength and conditioning coach for the visiting Major League Baseball squad on the recent All-Star tour of Japan. During the regular season, he works for the Pittsburgh Pirates, keeping in shape the players on that National League team.

Momose, 42, is a native of Nagano Prefecture and was educated at Nippon Taiiku Daigaku (College of Physical Education) in Tokyo and the University of Central Florida. He has worked for the Pirates for 14 years, but began his time in the majors as an intern with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000.

A speaker of Japanese, English and Spanish, Momose also served as a trainer for the national team of the Dominican Republic during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. His wife, Lucianna, is Venezuelan-American.

“I had originally hoped to become a trainer or strength coach with a Japanese pro baseball team,” Momose said. But the opportunity to work for a major league club came up while he was still a student at UCF in Orlando.

“I had a contact with the Devil Rays who told me they were looking for strength and conditioning help after one of the two guys they had left the team,” he said. “I got the job as an intern for three weeks during extended spring training in the summer of 2000.”

He thought he might be hired full time, but that did not work out, and he went back to finish his schooling.

The Pirates job then opened up for him through Matt Krause, a strength and conditioning coordinator with Pittsburgh. Krause had been Momose’s supervisor at UCF when Momose was a graduate assistant after completing his master’s degree.

Asked how he learned to speak English so fluently, Momose says, “I actually learned Spanish first while living for two years in Costa Rica. I served with the Japan Overseas Volunteer Corps (similar to the U.S. Peace Corps) from 1995 to 1997 after finishing my university studies in Japan.” Following that, he picked up English and decided to go for his master’s in Florida.

Momose’s triple language skills were put to good use during last month’s tour, as the personnel on the MLB roster who visited Japan included 10 players from Latin American countries. He did his best to make sure they were in the best shape possible, considering the fact many had not seen game action since the major league regular season ended in late September.

There were two workouts in Los Angeles, Momose noted, followed by another in Osaka before the games.

“I think the players were in good shape physically, but they were obviously not in mid-season form,” he said of his most recent challenge.

He was not making any excuses, but the rustiness of the major leaguers became apparent when they lost the first three games of their All-Star series against the Samurai Japan club stocked with Japanese Central and Pacific League stars who had been practicing all along.

The timing of the visiting team’s hitters and the control of the pitchers was off, but they started to come around later in the tour, winning the last two official games in Tokyo and Sapporo before dropping an exhibition game in Okinawa.

There were a few problems that Momose tried to minimize, such as the major leaguers’ leg muscles getting tighter quicker because of the unfamiliarity of playing on the all-dirt and artificial turf fields in Japan.

The series began and ended on the skin infields of Koshien Stadium near Osaka and Okinawa Cellular Field in Naha. In between, the five official games were played on the fake-grass surfaces at domed stadiums in Osaka, Tokyo and Sapporo.

Tampa Bay Rays lefty pitcher Jeff Beliveau experienced tightness in his throwing arm during the second official game at Tokyo Dome on Nov. 14 and sat out the remainder of the series. Other than that, the tour went pretty much injury-free for the visitors, save for the unfortunate hit-by-pitch incident where Seattle Mariners superstar second baseman Robinson Cano sustained a broken toe.

Momose is one of several Japanese nationals currently working for MLB clubs as trainers, video coordinators, scouts and, of course, translators. He is one of the more versatile because of his skills in leading exercise and stretching sessions with the players and his language abilities. He has worked stints at the Pirates Academy in the Dominican Republic and has accompanied Pittsburgh scouts to Japan to serve as their advisor and interpreter.

Pirates scouting director Tyrone Brooks said, “Kiyoshi has been a valuable member to our organization these last 14 years, thanks to his ability to be a such a great asset with our major league staff and players, our Latin American players in educating them about proper strength and conditioning methods and in assisting our efforts to make inroads in scouting Japanese baseball.

“His ability to communicate in various languages makes him such a rare commodity, and we thank him for his efforts. His personality and work ethic is so greatly appreciated.”

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com