Wladimir Balentien: Japan's new home run king
Wladimir Balentien moved past legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera to become Japan's single-season home run king by swatting Nos. 56 and 57 over the weekend. Here is a look at the popular Curacao-born outfielder, known as "Coco", and his amazing journey into baseball history.
- “I feel so relieved right now. Lot of emotions. Just to get this is something unbelievable. This is (something) that nobody was able to do for 49 years. For me to do it, I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now.” -- Wladimir Balentien
- “It’s amazing that he’s homered at a pace of about once every two games. This is far beyond a new NPB record and an overwhelming number. I want to enjoy how far he can take it over the next 18 games with the fans.” - Sadaharu Oh in a statement.
- "I was so glad. I was the most glad mom in the world for God blessing me with Balentien, with Coco." - Wladimir's proud mom, Astrid, who was in the stands for the record-shattering homers.
Here's a couple looks at how history unfolded Sunday night in Tokyo
- Below is an account of the record-breaking game by Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times (a link to the full story is at the end)
As soon as Wladimir Balentien’s bat made contact with Daiki Enokida’s fastball there was no doubt: Japan had just crowned a new home run king.
And the new king’s first decree was that his record total wasn’t high enough yet.
Balentien set the NPB single-season record with his 56th home run of year in the first inning, then hit No. 57 in his next at-bat of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ 9-0 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday night at Jingu Stadium.
“I feel so relieved right now,” Balentien said. “Lot of emotions. Just to get this is something unbelievable. This is (something) that nobody was able to do for 49 years. For me to do it, I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now.”
The 29-year-old Curacao native broke a four-way tie with Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera, who all have 55, to stand alone as the new record holder.
Balentien received hugs from each of his teammates after returning to the dugout and held up a cardboard placard to commemorate home run No. 56. The Swallows, knowing their slugger well, already had a No. 57 placard ready when Balentien went deep in the third.After hitting No. 56, Balentien blew a kiss into the stands where his mother, Astrid, who arrived in Japan on Thursday, was celebrating. Afterward, she clutched the 57th home run ball as she watched him during the postgame hero interview, and later joined him on the podium.
“I am the happiest mother,” she said later. “I’m so happy that God gave me an amazing son like Coco.”
Balentien came to the plate on Sunday with a runner on second in the first inning and worked the count to 2-1. He ripped the next pitch into the stands in left-center, thrusting his arms into the air as soon as he got his bat around Enokida’s 137-kph offering.
“I was trying to get the run in,” Balentien said. “I been trying too much to hit a home run the last couple of days, so today, my first AB (at-bat), I said I’m gonna relax.”
Once the history-making 56th was out of the way, the pressure was off and Balentien immediately sent a 3-0 slider from Enokida down the left field line for his 57th home run of the year in the third inning.
“When I hit that 56th, it was like, I just got a heavy weight off my back,” he said. “From that moment, to the next AB, to the next one, to the next one, I just felt like it’s a brand new season. It’s just (like) my first couple of ABs of the year.”Balentien tied the record on Wednesday night and went to the plate 13 times before finally breaking through.
All hail Japan's new (home run) king
- As news of Balenien's record-breaking homers spread, well-wishes came from around the globe. This record may belong to Japan, but Balentien has ties to all corners of the baseball world. The soon-to-be three-time Japanese League home run champ is a Curacao native who played for the Netherlands national team that reached the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic this spring and is a former Major Leaguer with the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds.
- Balentien didn't hit any homers in the WBC, but helped the Dutch beat powerhouse Cuba twice
- Balentien's final at-bat in the majors, in 2009, was a 495-foot home run -- no one has hit a longer homer in the big leagues since.
- Balentien was signed as a 16-year-old, and was considered one of the Mariners' top prospects for much of the early 2000s.
- "For me, he was just one of those guys who ran out of time. It's not like there were two clubs that passed on him and he went over there and played great. There were 30 clubs that passed on him, and he went over there and found his niche. It's kind of remarkable what he's done." -- Former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi
Here's what fans from across the world had to say
Did you find this story interesting? Be the first to like or comment.