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独立リーグ結果&ニュース : 西武育成1位・水口、憧れの片岡を追いかけて 〜アイランドリーグ・ドラフト指名選手〜
投稿日時: 2012-11-13 20:11:24

 8シーズン目を終えた四国アイランドリーグPlusから、今年は2選手が10月のドラフト会議で指名を受け、NPB行きの夢を叶えた。今季はリーグ出身の千葉ロッテ・角中勝也(元高知)が初の首位打者を獲得。この16日から行われるキューバ戦の日本代表メンバー入りを果たした。また福岡ソフトバンクの金無英(元福岡)やオリックスのアレッサンドロ・マエストリ(元香川)が初勝利をあげるなど、元アイランドリーガーのNPBでの活躍が目立ってきている。彼らに続く飛躍が期待される指名選手から、西武より育成1位指名を受けた水口大地(香川)を紹介する。
(写真:長崎時代はスイッチにも挑戦していたが、香川に来て左打ちに専念した)

 アイランドリーグを“卒業”するのに5年かかった。通常、3年以内でNPBに巣立っていく選手が多い中、これは異例の長さである。だが、水口自身はNPBへ行くために必要な5年間だったと考えている。
「“遠回りした”と言われますが、僕にとってはムダな時間はなかったと感じています。1年1年レベルアップして、ここまで来たわけですから」

 168センチ、65キロと小柄で華奢ながらスピードには自信がある。50メートル5秒8の俊足。年々、盗塁数を伸ばし、今季は37個を決めてタイトルを獲得した。
「今季、さらに足が速くなった印象を受けた」
 そう評したのは相手ベンチから水口を見ていた高知・定岡智秋監督である。
「単に走力が上がったのではなく、足を生かしたプレーができるようになった証拠でしょう。これまでは攻守に淡白さも見受けられましたが、今季は打席に入ると簡単に三振せず、粘り強さが出てきました」

 今季は1番・セカンドに定着し、香川の年間優勝に貢献した。9月は打率.455、出塁率.538の好成績で月間MVPにも輝いている。
「体が小さいから非力だと思って僕が打席に入ると外野手は前進して守る。リーグに来た頃は外野の頭上を狙おうと大振りになってしまい、よく怒られましたね。NPBでもホームランバッターにはなれないのだから、とにかく野手の間を抜く打球を心がける。試行錯誤しながら、ようやく自分の目指すべきバッティングが見えてきたように感じます」

 大村工高から2008年、地元にできたアイランドリーグの球団、長崎セインツに入った。もちろん、夢はNPB選手。「元プロ選手に指導してもらって、1日中、野球ができる」ことが独立リーグ行きの決め手となった。

 しかし、独立リーグといえどもプロ。レベルは予想以上に高かった。
「高校の時はそこそこ自分の実力に自信があったんですけど、アイランドリーグに入って自信を一気になくしました」
 それでも足を生かした守備範囲の広さを買われ、1年目は主にショートで40試合に出場。2年目の09年は「3年計画でNPBへ」という長冨浩志監督の下、内野手出身の古屋剛コーチ(いずれも当時)と徹底して守備の基本を叩きこんだ。

 大きかったのは身近な先輩の存在だ。特にこの年、二遊間を組んだ松井宏次の守備の巧さには驚かされた。「動きも速いし、プレーも正確。見た瞬間に“うまい!”と思える内野手でしたね」。この5歳上のセカンドを水口は師と仰ぎ、その技術を見よう見まねで盗もうとした。

 ひとつ階段を上がった水口は79試合に出場し、チームの前期優勝に貢献。秋のドラフトでは松井が東北楽天から育成指名を受ける。「松井さんのように僕もドラフトで指名されたい」。高卒2年目の選手の視界にも華やかなNPBの世界が、よりリアルに見えてきた瞬間だった。

 ただし、だからと言って誰もが希望通りの道を歩めないのが、人生の難しさだ。翌10年限りで、球団は経営難のために解散。救済ドラフトで香川に移籍した昨季は左ヒジを痛め、5月中旬から1カ月半、選手契約を解除された。
「もう、このまま続けてもムリかもしれない。野球を辞めようかなと正直、思うこともありました」

 練習生としてチームには残ったが、当然、試合には出られない。ホームゲームではマスコットの着ぐるみを着たり、スコアボードの操作をして裏方の仕事を任された。グラウンド内で観客の歓声を浴び、躍動する選手たちがまぶしかった。
「オレは、こんなところで何をやっているんだ!」
 弱気になりかけていた気持ちが再び燃え上がった。ケガから復帰すると、水口はそれまで以上に野球に打ち込んだ。試合では全力プレーを怠らなかった。今季はリーグ戦のみならず、10月のみやざきフェニックス・リーグでも二盗、三盗を立て続けに決め、得点につなげるなどアピール。野球の神様は小柄な背番号2を見捨ててはいなかった。

 入団が決まった西武には、憧れの選手がいる。4度の盗塁王に輝き、前回のWBCでは侍ジャパンのユニホームにも袖を通した片岡易之だ。俊足のセカンドという共通項もあり、水口は以前から、そのプレーぶりをインターネットなどでチェックしていた。
「守備や走塁でお手本にしてきた選手と同じチームになることはうれしいですね。たくさん教わりたいことがあるし、盗んでいきたいと思っています」

 片岡と同じ1軍のフィールドに立つには、まず支配下登録を勝ちとらなくてはいけない。昨年まで西武は育成選手を採用してこなかった。いつでも1軍で使える戦力として全選手を育てるという球団の方針があったからだ。その中から多くの若獅子たちが西武ドームでチャンスをつかんできた。

「そういう球団が敢えて育成でも獲ったのだから、逆にいえば伸びしろを期待されているということ」と香川・西田真二監督は水口にエールを送る。本人もいつまでも育成選手を示す3ケタの背番号を背負うつもりはない。「高卒や大卒で入ってくる選手より年齢は上。最初の1カ月が勝負」との決意を胸に1月の合同自主トレをスタートする考えだ。

「体が小さくてプロ野球選手を諦める人もいるでしょうけど、僕みたいな選手が活躍することで夢を与えたい」
 5年間のアイランドリーグ生活で培った心と技を、小さな体いっぱいに詰め込み、新しい“大地”で大勝負をかける。

※東京ヤクルトから5位指名を受けた星野雄大捕手の特集はこちら
>>神宮つばメ〜ル「勝負強いキャッチャー、星野雄大」

(石田洋之)


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