There is a distinct chance Japan sees the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic this year.

Should that come to pass, the Samurai would see an extremely familiar face in the batter’s box: Netherlands slugger and NPB legend Wladimir Balentien.

Balentien, who spent time in MLB with the Mariners and Reds, ultimately became an MiLB mainstay before joining the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. There, he carved out a niche as a slugger who would eventually break the NPB single-season record for home runs, becoming the only player to hit 60 dingers in a single year.

Balentien, 38, broke the previous record of 55 home runs held by all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera.

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Here’s what to know about the veteran slugger who has found new life in Japan: 

Wladimir Balentien MLB career

Balentien never truly found his footing in the majors after being signed by the Mariners in 2000. He made his MLB debut in 2007 and joined Mariners spring training in 2008. Balentien was traded to the Reds in 2009.

Balentien did hit one towering blast with the Reds against the Pirates that was estimated to be the longest of the 2009 season. However, he was released by Cincinnati in 2010.

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Wladimir Balentien NPB career

Balentien’s Nippon Professional Baseball career, meanwhile, was significantly more noteworthy.

After being released by the Reds, he signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The impact was immediate, with Balentien’s power being a rare sight in NPB. He hit 31 homers in his first season in Japan.

Two years later, Balentien went on a true home run tear. Over the course of NPB’s 143-game season, Balentien hit 60 home runs in 2013, hitting No. 56 on Sep. 15.

Although Balentien never hit that pinnacle again, he had 30 or more home runs five more times in his career. After leaving the Swallows, he finished his career with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks before retiring in January, 2022.

He finished with 301 home runs for his Japanese career, tied for 43rd all-time.

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Wladimir Balentien home run controversy

Balentien’s 60-home run season isn’t without its controversy.

Despite being out of his control, NPB admitted late in the 2013 season it had secretly juiced the balls, leading to inflated home run numbers and the subsequent resignation of former commissioner Ryozo Kato.

“Our understanding was that it would be a matter of fine-tuning,” NPB secretary general Kunio Shimoda said after the controversy became known, per The Bangkok Post.

“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.”

Balentien’s record, however, is still recognized as legitimate.

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