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独立リーグ結果&ニュース : 中日8位・山本、目指せ! 山本昌 〜アイランドリーグ・ドラフト指名選手Vol.2〜
投稿日時: 2014-12-12 17:00:00

 節目の10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4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。東京ヤクルト4位の寺田哲也(香川)と、東北楽天5位の入野貴大、中日8位の山本雅士(ともに徳島)、巨人育成1位の篠原慎平(香川)である。NPBでのさらなる飛躍が望まれる指名選手から、今回は山本のアイランドリーグでの成長ぶりを紹介する。
(写真:「先発、中継ぎ、抑えと経験して、それぞれの調整法も学べた」と、この1年で大きな収穫があった)

「選手登録、5勝」
 開幕前、それが山本の今季の目標だった。NPB入りは、まだ高すぎる頂だった。

 広島の安芸南高から徳島に来て2年目。しかし、ルーキーイヤーはずっと練習生として過ごした。高校時代は腰、肩を痛めて本人曰く「不完全燃焼」に終わり、「野球に集中してできる環境を」とリーグのトライアウトを受けた。合格して入団はできたものの、高校で目立った実績を残せなかった右腕が、すぐに通用するほど甘い世界ではなかった。

「体力がチームの中では一番弱い方でした。全体的な筋力アップに、柔軟性を高めること……フィジカルのベースアップが何よりの目標でした」
 本人は1年目をそう振り返る。公式戦では投げられず、ただ、ひたすらトレーニングを繰り返す日々。だが、若者は腐ることなく、土台づくりに専念した。

 迎えた2年目、下半身ががっちりした山本のボールは進化していた。ストレートの質がアップし、低めにグッと伸びる。ストレートが決まれば、カットボールなどの変化球も生きてくる。選手登録されて登板のチャンスを得ると、先発で完封勝利を収める(5月14日、高知戦)など着実に結果を残した。

「正直、どこが良くなったという自覚はなかったんです」
 山本は明かす。
「でも、ある時、僕のピッチングを撮影していただいているファンの方から、こう言われたんです。“最初の頃より、前でボールを放せているね”って。おそらく下半身を鍛えたことで、しっかり体重を乗せて投げられるようになったんだと思います」

 できあがった土台の上に実戦経験というレンガを積み上げ、前期途中からはリリーフで勝ちパターンの一翼を担い、優勝に貢献した。そして7月、リーグ選抜の一員に選ばれ、関東でのフューチャーズ(イースタンリーグ混成チーム)戦に登板する。これが山本にとってNPBのバッターと対戦するのは初めてだった。

 結果は2回無失点。
「確かにアイランドリーグと比べればバッターのレベルは高いと思いましたが、ちょっと手応えをつかみましたね」
 自信を深めた右腕は後期、試合数の半数近い18試合に登板。抑えも務め、チームは前後期制覇を果たす。シーズンを通じた成績は31試合で4勝5敗6S。防御率2.54はリーグ5位だった。

 愛媛とのリーグチャンピオンシップ、そして群馬との独立リーグ・グランドチャンピオンシップ、山本はチームの守護神として、いずれも優勝の瞬間をマウンド上で迎えた。投げた4試合すべてが7回途中や8回からのイニングまたぎ。それでも、計9回3分の2を無失点と相手を寄せつけなかった。

「結果的には0点でしたけど四球を出したり、きれいに終わらせられなかった」
 本人は反省を口にしたが、開幕前は練習生だった20歳(当時)が独立リーグ日本一の立役者となった。その急成長ぶりをNPBのスカウトが見逃すはずはなかった。積み重ねたレンガは、ついにNPB入りという高みに到達したのだ。

「投げっぷりがいい」と島田直也監督(来季から横浜DeNAコーチ)が評するように、どんどんストライクを投げ込むのが身上だ。際どいコースをボールと判定されても、ニヤリと笑みを浮かべ、悔しそうな顔を見せない。
「いいコースやったな、と自然と楽しくなってくるんです。ボールと判定されたのはジャッジなんで仕方ない。マイナスには考えないですね」
 良いことも悪いことも引きずらない。切り替えのうまさもプロ向きの性格だ。

 中日の山本といえば、言わずと知れた球界最年長左腕の山本昌である。読みがなが重なることから、ドラフト指名時より、“もうひとりのヤマモトマサ”と話題になった。「(呼び名は)僕はマサシでも何でもいい」と本人は語るが、名前が共通するのも何かの縁だ。「聞いてみたいことはたくさんあります。機会があれば、いろいろ質問してみたいですね」と山本は“レジェンド”との対面を心待ちにしている。

 理想とするのはストレートとウイニングショットで打者を牛耳るピッチャーだ。ボストン・レッドソックスの上原浩治や、東北楽天の則本昴大をお手本にする。
「そのためには決め球となる変化球をもっと磨かないとダメですね。牽制やフィールディング、打者との間合いといった部分も勉強していきたい」
 NPBでの課題を挙げる山本に、来季は敵チームのコーチとなる島田も「まずは2軍でプロのピッチャーとして、たくさんのことを吸収して力をつけてほしい」とエールを送る。

 中日は今季、リーグ出身の又吉克樹(元香川)がセ・リーグ2位となる67試合に投げ、大車輪の働きをみせた。「勝ち試合で投げられるピッチャーになりたい」という山本との“アイランドリーグリレー”をファンは期待している。

 まだ21歳。伸びしろに天井はない。ヤマモトマサといえば、山本昌と山本雅士。こう並び称される位置まで右腕は今後も自らのレンガを積み重ねていく。

>>ヤクルト4位・寺田(香川)編はこちら(「神宮つばメ〜ル」のコーナーより)
>>楽天5位・入野(徳島)編はこちら

(石田洋之)


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