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二宮清純「ノンフィクション・シアター・傑作選」 : 野武士のスウィング 小笠原道大
投稿日時: 2009-05-03 10:00:00

 バントをしない2番打者――今から3年前、ファイターズの小笠原道大はそう呼ばれた。
 通常、2番打者というと、バントやエンドランを得意とする“小細工のきくバッター”をイメージしがちだが、小笠原はその対極に位置していた。

 とにかく思いっきりがいい。スウィング・スピードが速く、何よりもベンチに媚びるようなバッティングをしないところが魅力だった。
 そこが手続き重視の堅実型の野球に慣れ親しんできたこの国のプロ野球ファンには、新鮮に映った。
 振り返って、小笠原は語る。
「当時、上田(利治)監督からも“好きに打て”と言われました。バントや街球のサインは、そうして欲しい時にベンチが出すから、変な小細工はするな、と。それよりも自分のバッティングをしてくれと。そう言われると、嬉しくはありますが、逆にプレッシャーも感じました。きちんと結果を出さなければいけないわけですから……」

 小笠原は96年の秋、ドラフト3位指名を受け、社会人野球のNTT関東からファイターズに入団した。プロに入ってすぐのキャンプで、小笠原は早くも自信を喪失した。バッティング練習での打球が外野手はおろか、内野手の頭さえ越えないのだ。
 金属バットの弊害だった。
「自分の意識では内から(ボールを)叩いているつもりが、外側から力を入れて持ち上げていくような感じになっていた。自然にそういう打ち方になっていた」
 社会人野球を5年経験し、24歳での入団。「1年1年が勝負」という気構えでプロ入りした小笠原にとって、内野手の手前で失速する打球は、自らを、そしてベンチをひどく落胆させるものだった。

 しかし、捨てる神あれば拾う神あり。奈落の底で小笠原は師と巡り合う。バッティングコーチの加藤秀司だった。
 加藤は言った。
「詰まろうが、バットの先に当たろうが、とにかく最後まで振り抜こうやないか。トップの位置からポイントまで、最短の距離を振り抜こう。仮に空振りしても尻もちついたとしても、それでええやないか」
 現役時代の加藤は、細い体に似合わない豪快なスウィングをするバッターだった。ツーストライクをとられるまでは、それこそ体が1回転するくらいバットを振り回した。しかし、追い込まれると一転して軽打に切り換え、レフト方向に狙い打った。豪快さと器用さを兼ね備えた、70年代のパ・リーグを代表する左の強打者だった。
 加藤にフルスウィングの重要性を説かれた小笠原は、以来、マンツーマンの指導を受け、フルスウィングを体に染み込ませた。一口にフルスウィングといっても、誰でも簡単にできるものではない。バットを振り切るだけの体力と、振り切っても軸のブレないバランスの良さを併せ持っていなければ、バットに振られているだけの情けない姿になる。
 キャンプ中、小笠原は一心不乱にバットを振り込むことで、スウィング・スピードに負けないだけの下半身と回転軸をつくり上げた。社会人時代から続けていたウエート・トレーニングも、筋肉の内部からフルスウィングを支えた。

 しかし、レギュラーの座は途轍もなく遠かった。当時、ファイターズのファーストは3冠王を3度獲得した落合博満の指定席だった。ちょっとやそっとの努力で超えられる壁ではない。途中からバッティングに専念すべく、キャッチャーからファーストに転向した小笠原に与えられた仕事は、落合のグラブ受け渡し係だった。相手の攻撃が終わると、落合からポンとミットが投げ渡される。再び守備につく際にはミットを抱えてファーストまで走る。ベンチ前でのキャッチボールも、小笠原の仕事のひとつだった。
「といって、何か教えてもらったということはない。こちらから話しかけられるような人じゃなかったですから。
 まぁ、強いて言えば間の取り方くらいでしょうか。落合さんはゆったりと構えるんです。せかせかしていない。あぁ、こういう間の取り方もあるのか……。なるほどなぁと思ったものです」
 プロ入り2年目の6月、1軍昇格が言い渡された。小笠原は左手の薬指を骨折していた。なぜ、この時期に自分なのか……。
「もし打てなくても、こんな選手を使う方が悪い。どうせアウトになるんだったら、思いっきり3回振ってやれ。そう思って3つ振りにいった。すると、確かフラフラっと上がった打球がサードの後方にポトリと落ちた。しっかり振り抜いたからこそヒットになった。思えば、これが僕のフルスウィングの原点じゃないでしょうか……」

 翌98年、落合の引退を受け、小笠原は晴れてレギュラーの座を掴む。そこからの彼の活躍ぶりは次の数字が示すとおりだ。
 99年。打率2割8分5厘、25本塁打、83打点。
 00年。打率3割2分9厘、31本塁打、102打点。
 01年。打率3割3分9厘、32本塁打、86打点。
 打撃3部門でのタイトルこそないが、00年には182安打、01年には195安打をマークし、2年連続で最多安打のタイトルを獲得している。
 今季の成績は8月6日現在、打率3割5分2厘(1位)、25本塁打(4位)、60打点(4位)――。かつて「バントをしない2番打者」と呼ばれた男はパ・リーグにおいて「3冠王に最も近い男」と呼ばれるまでに腕を上げた。
「打点がちょっと少ない。3番を任された以上、得点圏で打席に立った時、いかにランナーを還せるか。それが勝負だと思っています。バッティングに関しては、これで終わりということはない。目標は打率10割ですよ」
 夏の夜、小笠原の殺気をはらんだスウィングは、背中がゾクリとするほどスリリングである。

<この原稿は2002年9月5日号『ビッグコミックオリジナル』(小学館)に掲載されたものです>


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