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石田洋之「神宮つばメ〜ル」 : 第19回 ドラフト3位・田川賢吾、驚異の18歳
投稿日時: 2013-01-07 21:04:00

 ピッチャーを本格的に始めて、わずか1年半。誰もが驚きのドラフト指名だ。高知中央高からドラフト3位で入団する田川賢吾のことである。経験は浅いが、素材はピカイチ。本人が「持ち味は角度と伸びのあるまっすぐ」と語るように、187センチの長身からMAX148キロの速球を投げ下ろす。キレのあるスライダーはもちろん、カーブやフォークなど変化球も一通り投げられる。担当した岡林洋一スカウトも「将来のエース候補」と大いに期待を寄せている。
(写真:目標とする投手には由規、対戦したい打者には糸井(日本ハム)をあげる)

「プロに行く気があるか? プロに行きたいならマンツーマンでやっていこう」
 高2の春までは外野手だった田川の運命を変えたのは恩師の一言だった。言葉の主はこの年、高知中央高の監督に就任した角田(つのだ)篤敏である。角田は岡山・関西高、沖縄尚学高で甲子園に計8度導いた名指導者だ。プロ選手も何名も育てており、教え子のひとりには比屋根渉もいる。

 突然の言葉に、田川は「え?」とキツネにつままれたような顔を見せたという。いったい角田はどこに惚れたのか。
「足は速いし、運動能力が抜群でした。僕が20年以上、高校生を見てきた中でも一番の逸材です。体育の先生からも“サッカー、バスケ、何をやらせてもうまい”という話を聞きました」
 そんな指揮官の勧めで田川はピッチャーに転向する。「ピッチャーはやってみたいポジションでした」と明かす高校生は乾いたスポンジのごとく、角田の教えを吸収していった。

「下半身強化で砂浜を走ったり、徹底して基礎体力づくりに励みました。一冬を越すと、まるっきり変わりましたね。下半身が安定して球持ちが良くなった。しっかり指にかかって回転のあるボールが投げられるようになったんです。球速も最初と比較すると10キロほどアップしましたね」

 実際にピッチャーに転向すると驚かされたのは角田のほうだった。光ったのは飲み込みの早さだけではない。指導した内容を自分なりに解釈して、プラスに転じられる賢さが田川にはあった。

 たとえば前へ踏み出す左足の使い方。角田は最初、田川にアウトステップで投げるように教えた。まずは左足のひざが割れ、力が逃げないようにするためである。もちろん最終的には左足はバッター方向にまっすぐか、やや内を向いてインステップするほうがいい。角田は下半身でしっかり踏ん張れるようになってから、これを次のステップとして伝えようと考えていた。

 ところが――。
「夏の大会が終わって練習しているのを見たら、自然と足先が内側に向くフォームになっていたんです。おそらく自分で投げているうちに、これが一番力が入ると気づいたのでしょう。より上を目指そうとする姿勢には感心させられましたよ」

 そんな田川が周囲をうならせた試合が昨夏の県大会3回戦の岡豊戦だ。立ち上がりに1点を失ったものの、以降はわずか1安打を打たれたのみ。最速の148キロを記録しただけでなく、無四球で完投勝利を収めたのだ。「これはウチの打者には打てないと思いました」と相手の監督も脱帽のピッチングだった。

「確かにあの試合はリラックスして力が抜けていましたよね」
 角田も好投を認めつつ、驚きの事実を明かした。
「ただね、あの時、彼は軸足を疲労骨折していたんですよ。“痛い、痛い”と言いながら我慢して投げていたんで、こちらとしても申し訳なかった……」
 骨が折れていてMAXを更新したのだから、これは驚異的だ。残念ながら田川は続く準々決勝で延長戦の末に敗れ、甲子園行きの道を断たれた。勝負事にタラレバはないが、もし万全の状態であれば、球速は150キロを超え、県大会を勝ち抜いて全国を騒がせていたかもしれない。

 今季は鳴り物入りでプロの世界に飛び込む高校生が多い。中でも北海道日本ハムに入団する大谷翔平(岩手・花巻東)は投手と野手の“二刀流”挑戦で話題になっている。しかし、田川も負けてはいない。チームではエースで4番。試合でバックスクリーンに特大の一発を放り込んだこともある。現にドラフト会議の前には「野手として獲得したい」との意向を示した球団もあったようだ。

 田川本人は「投手で勝負したい」との気持ちが強く、“二刀流”が実現する可能性は低いだろう。ただ、投げて良し、打って良しというプレースタイルは能力が高くなければ無理な話だ。底知れぬ潜在能力を秘めた18歳が、プロの世界でどんな驚きを観る者に与えてくれるのか。今からデビューが待ち遠しい。

(次回は1月21日に更新します)

(石田洋之)


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