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二宮清純「プロ野球の時間」(第1、3火曜更新) : 第406回 前田健太に真のプロ根性を見た
投稿日時: 2010-09-28 12:27:32

「〜2世」と呼ばれる選手で、成功した例は稀である。コピーはあくまでもコピー。本家を超えるのは容易ではない。
 近年、プロ野球で成功した例といえば「桑田2世」と呼ばれたマエケンこと広島の前田健太くらいか。
 弱小チームに身を置きながら、リーグトップの14勝(7敗)をあげ、防御率(2.25)も目下、1位だ(記録は9月27日現在)。


 PL学園では1年生で甲子園のマウンドを踏み、ピッチングだけでなくバッティング、フィールディング、走塁技術も一流。高校時代から「桑田2世」と呼ばれていた。
 しかし、マエケンが本家に似ているとすればプレースタイルよりも、むしろ安易な妥協を嫌う、意志の強さだろう。そして、生き馬の目を抜くプロで生きていく上では、これが一番大切な要素なのだ。

 首脳陣が替われば、練習のあり方も変わる。
 今季からカープのピッチングコーチに就任した大野豊はドラフト外入団の叩き上げである。
 現役時代、フォームを固めようと、春のキャンプでは徹底した投げ込みを行なった。これが功を奏し、防御率1位を2度、セーブ王にも2度輝くほどの大投手になった。
 当然、選手たちにも投げ込みを奨励する。
 この指導方針に対し「僕はこの程度でいいんです」と言って、頑なに自分のペースを守ったのがプロ入り4年目のマエケンだった。
 彼は言った。
「僕は投げ込まなくても、もうフォームは固まっているという考え方なんです。一応、プロ野球選手なので(笑)。
 12月と1月、たった2カ月ピッチングをしなかったくらいでフォームを忘れるようなら(そういう選手は)プロじゃないと思います」
 ここまで言い切るからには、余程の自信があるのだろう。

 不意に桑田真澄の若い頃を思い出した。彼も自分が正しいと思ったことは、遠慮せずにはっきりと主張した。
 それゆえ、先輩たちからニラまれたこともあったが、彼はひるまなかった。むしろルーキーの頃はPL学園時代の同僚、清原和博の方が先輩やOBから好かれていた。
 桑田はこう語っている。
<僕の野球に対する考え方と、プロとはこういうものだという諸先輩が作られたプロ野球ならではの考え方が違ったから。
 例えば、僕がプロ野球に入った頃は、ピッチャーはボールより重いものを持ってはいけないとか、体を冷やしてはいけない、プールに入ったらダメ、ウエイトトレーニングはやってはいけない、といった考え方が根付いていた。そういうものに対して、ぶつかり合いながら、根拠もなく根付いていた概念を打ち破ってきたからね。
 ほかにもいろいろやったな。バスを喫煙と禁煙で別々にしてもらったり、宿泊をふたり部屋、3人部屋から、試合に集中するためにひとり部屋にしてもらったり。これは5年くらいかかったけど。
 入団した頃はアイシングさえなかったからね。肩を冷やしていると『何、冷やしてんだ!』って怒られたくらいだから。誰もやってないことをやると新聞やテレビで叩かれたけど、自分が信じて始めたこと。今ではどれも当たり前になっているからね。>(橋本清著『PL学園OBはなぜプロ野球で成功するのか?』より)

 桑田が巨人に入団した頃、それこそプロ野球選手の8割はタバコを吸っていた。今では“分煙”は当たり前だが、それを口にするのは勇気がいったと思う。
 桑田は最後まで“長いモノには巻かれろ”という考えを良しとはしなかった。
 周知のようにマエケンはPL学園の桑田の後輩にあたる。桑田の高校時代は知らないが巨人時代の活躍は鮮明に記憶に残っているという。
「甲子園に出るためではなく、プロになるためには一番適している学校」
 そう考えてPLを選んだというのだから、目的意識の高さは尋常ではない。
 桑田は39歳までプレーした。「甲子園の優勝投手はプロでは大成しない」というジンクスを打破したのは、身体のメンテナンスを怠らなかったからだ。長く野球をやりたい、という気持ちが強かったのだろう。

 同じことはマエケンにも言える。独特の“マエケン体操”は既に高校時代からやっていたという。
 昨季までカープの一軍打撃コーチをしていた小早川毅彦は「老朽化した寮で湯船に浸かり、体を休めていたのはマエケンだけ。他の若い選手はシャワーだけで済ませていた」と語っていた。
 こんなエピソードからも若きエースの志の高さがうかがえる。

<この原稿は2010年9月21日号『経済界』に掲載されたものです>


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