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March 29, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Onetime Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien making a new baseball life for himself in Tokyo

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Once upon a time, the Mariners envisioned Wladimir Balentien becoming a 30-homer corner outfielder for them. Instead, he became remembered for being another prospect from the Bill Bavasi years that couldn’t get it done in the majors.
Balentien last played in Seattle in 2009 and was traded to the Reds in late July of that year. He bounced around the minors a bit, then ended up here in Japan, playing for the Tokyo Swallows of the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
In his debut season last year, he hit 31 home runs to lead the league. Walk around this city a little, you’ll eventually see a poster of the country’s reigning Home Run King someplace.
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Given this info, I showed up early at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday because I knew the Swallows were working out there at noon (local time) ahead of their season debut Friday night. Balentien was hanging out in a corridor near the Mariners clubouse as early-arriving Seattle players straggled in for their game against Oakland.
Balentien had a chat with Felix Hernandez and handed him a bat. Turns out, it was for Carlos Peguero, who wanted to try some of the Japanese wood Balentien now wields over here. We had a brief chat afterwards, in which Balentien told me he’s content with his new life here in Japan, whether or not it leads back to the majors.
“I don’t have any hard feelings,” the Curacao native said. “I understand this is a business. If you don’t do what you have to do at the time, other people come in and do it and that’s everywhere you go. I had my opportunity. I wasn’t able to get good results in the little time I had, but I’ve left that all in the past and I’m just looking forward.”
Balentien’s wife just had the couple’s second child, a girl, so she’s back home in Venezuela and won’t be coming back over for a few more weeks. He’s enjoying the life of being a minor celebrity over here after his home run exploits of a year ago.
“When I began the season and things started going well, I was in the newspaper a lot,” Balentien said. “Everywhere you went, people were talking about me coming into the league my first year and having success. So, people start looking forward to see you. When you walk through the street, or go to the restaurant, people come up to you. They’re very nice people here, everybody. So, they come to say hi, or to wish you good luck. Stuff like that, so, it’s a nice experience.”


Balentien once hoped he’d have that experience in the majors. He still hasn’t ruled that out, though, clearly, earning a living here and being appreciated for his talents is a nice way to spend the years in between.
One of his teammates is Lastings Milledge, the former “can’t miss” Mets prospect who did indeed miss big-time. All of the non-Asian players in this league are usually guys who “missed” at some point in a North American career.
But Balentien and others are learning there is no shame in that.
For now, they are continuing to play the game to the best of their abilities, hoping another chance at the majors comes around. And if they don’t get it, many of them will still be content with a life that sees them earning decent money to play a sport they love in a coutry as modern as the United States.
In Balentien’s case, he’s living in a city that’s bigger — and arguably just as nice — as downtown Manhattan.
“I came over here and it’s kind of the same as the big leagues,” he said. “Not 100 percent, but it’s kind of like it. I’m happy about it and my family is happy and that’s what it’s all about.”

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