There is a good likelihood that Japan will face the Netherlands in this year’s World Baseball Classic quarterfinals.
Should it occur, the Samurai would see a very well-known face in the batter’s box: legendary NPB hitter from the Netherlands, Wladimir Balentien.
Balentien, who played for the Mariners and Reds in the MLB, eventually established himself in the MiLB before signing with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
He developed a following there and eventually broke the NPB single-season home run record by being the first player to hit 60 home runs in a calendar year.
Balentien, 38, surpassed the previous mark of 55 home runs held by Alex Cabrera, Tuffy Rhodes, and Sadaharu Oh, the all-time leader in home runs.
What you should know about the seasoned slugger who has settled in Japan is as follows:
Who is Wladimir Balentien?
Wladimir Ramon Balentien, also known as “Coco,” is a free-agent outfielder in baseball who is Curaçaoan and Dutch.
He participated in baseball with the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball (MLB), the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
Sadaharu Oh, the all-time leader in home runs in professional baseball, American Tuffy Rhodes, and Venezuelan Alex Cabrera had previously held the NPB single-season record of 55 home runs before he shattered it in 2013.
Balentien hit 60 home runs before the season’s end.
Wladimir Balentien MLB Career
The Mariners signed Balentien in 2000, but he never really settled in the majors. He joined the Mariners’ spring training in 2008 after making his MLB debut in 2007. In 2009, Balentien was moved to the Reds.
With the Reds against the Pirates, Balentien did smash a towering blast that was thought to be the longest of the 2009 campaign. However, Cincinnati released him in 2010.
Wladimir Balentien NPB Career
Balentien, though, had a much more notable Nippon Professional Baseball career.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows hired him after the Reds dropped him. The impact was immediately felt, with Balentien’s rare power in NPB. In his debut season in Japan, he hit 31 home runs.
Balentien experienced an accurate home run rip two years later. Balentien hit 60 home runs throughout the 143-game NPB season in 2013, with his 56th coming on September 15.
Balentien never again reached that level, although five more times in his career, he hit 30 or more home runs. After leaving the Swallows, he concluded his career with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and will retire in January 2022.
Wladimir Balentien shared a tweet: “Today I wanna announce to all my fans in Japan that Im retiring from Japanis baseball wanna thank the swallows for the opportunity to play in Japan an make that opportunity a great baseball career an one of the greatest home run hitter in the japanis baseball hr king forever”
Today I wanna announce to all my fans in Japan that Im retiring from japanis baseball wanna thank the swallows for the opportunity to play in Japan an make that opportunity a great baseball career an one of the greatest home run hitter in the japanis baseball hr king forever
— Wladimir coco balentien (@cocobalentien) January 22, 2022
He tied for 43rd all-time with 301 home runs for his Japanese career total.
The Controversy Behind Balentien’s Record-Breaking Season
Balentien’s season of 60 home runs wasn’t without criticism.
Although outside his control, NPB acknowledged during the end of the 2013 campaign that it had covertly injected juice into the balls, inflating the number of home runs and forcing former commissioner Ryozo Kato to quit.
After the disagreement was made public, NPB secretary general Kunio Shimoda remarked, “Our understanding was that it would be a matter of fine-tuning,” according to The Bangkok Post.
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“I didn’t know anything about it at all,” Kato said in a press conference. “I have never intended to cover up the fact at all. Please allow me to apologize for causing such confusion as this.”
Nonetheless, Balentien’s record is still regarded as authentic.