NPB home run king Wladimir Balentien announces retirement

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Wladimir Balentien, Japan’s year-long home run record holder, has retired from Japanese baseball, according to a tweet from his Twitter account Sunday.

“Today I would like to announce to all my fans in Japan that I am retiring from (Japanese) baseball, I would like to thank the Swallows for the opportunity to play in Japan,” the tweet read.

He previously said he wants to continue his career with another Japanese team in 2021 after his final season with the Hawks.

Balentien, 37, was one of the most explosive hitters – foreigner or Japanese – in NPB history.

A native of Willemstad, Curacao, he began his NPB career with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2011, winning the Central League home run title in each of his first three seasons.

That includes the 2013 campaign, which saw Balentien rewrote the NPB record book with 60 home runs to surpass the previous season’s mark of 55, originally set by Yomiuri Giants legend Sadaharu Oh in 1964 and hitter Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 of the Kintetsu Buffaloes, surpassed Alex Cabrera of the Seibu Lions in 2002.

Balentien, who admitted to feeling increasing pressure towards the end of the chase, joined that trio with his 55th home run on September 11, 2013. Four days later on September 15, he took sole possession of the record homer from Hanshin Tigers pitcher Daiki Enokida at Jingu Stadium with a first inning.

“It was a line drive but I hit it so well, I hit it in the right spot so I knew it was going to go out,” Balentien said during his hero interview that night. “It was a great feeling. I (don’t) think I’ll ever feel that in my life again.”

He set the record ahead of his mother, who traveled to Japan for the occasion and later joined him during the hero interview and a post-game press conference. Balentien also received enthusiastic applause from the Swallows and Tigers fans in attendance and posed for photos with the Hanshin fan catching the ball.

Balentien increased the record to 57 in his next shot before finally hitting 60.

Balentien played in 11 NPB seasons and has a .266 career average with 301 homers, 794 RBIs and a .916 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Swallows and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks — where he spent his last two years. He’s one of only 43 players with more than 300 NPB homers.

He hit at least 31 homers in eight of his first nine seasons, the only exception coming in 2015 when he was limited to just 15 games due to injury.

Balentien was the 2013 CL MVP, made two CL Best Nine teams and was a six-time All-Star.

He was also a key member of the Netherlands national baseball team, helping the Netherlands reach the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and 2017. His play during the 2017 WBC earned him a spot on the all-tournament team.

Balentien played for the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds in MLB before signing with the Swallows.

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