Former Major League Baseball player Wladimir Balentien is just one home run away from tying the single-season home run record for Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.
Balentien, 29, hit his 54th home run of the season on Tuesday, sending a pitch that was well out of the strike zone into the center field bleachers. USA Today's For The Win blog has a GIF of the home run, which can be viewed here.
The Yakult Swallows star needs just one more round-tripper to tie the NPB’s single-season record of 55 home runs, set by international baseball legend Sadaharu Oh in 1964. Balentien has 22 remaining regular season games to break Oh’s single-season Japanese home run record. "I'm a little nervous every time I go up there," Balentien told The Japan Times.
"I've just gotten to the point where now with one swing, I can be in history. I can be at the top of the all-time home run list for a single season in Japan. After I hit that one [Tuesday], every at-bat, it was a little nervous.”
Balentien signed with MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 2000, and spent the first five years of his baseball career in the minor leagues. Eventually, the outfielder was called up to the majors, but poor production as a member of the Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds meant that Balentien was out of league by 2009. The Curacao native then signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2011, hitting 31 home runs in his first two seasons in Japan, MLB.com notes.
Balentien isn’t the first NPB player to challenge Oh’s record; in fact, he’s the league’s fifth player to hit 54 home runs in a single-season, the Japan Times reports. In addition, former MLB players Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera have each tied the record by hitting 55 home runs, MLB.com notes.
When asked if he’d like Oh to be in attendance to watch him break the single-season home run record, Balentien levied praise on the legendary slugger. “It has to come from his side,” Balentien told the Japan Times, according to MLB.com. “If he thinks I have a shot to do it and he feels like he wants to be there to watch it, it’s an honor for me, because he’s the greatest home run hitter ever.”