Wladimir Balentien aiming to become Japan's home run king
Tokyo Reporter -- Aug 30
Succession to Japan's home run crown is just a few swings away. In the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday at Meiji Jingu Stadium, Wladimir Balentien, the right-handed slugger for the Central League's Yakult Swallows, uncoiled his burly frame to pound a hanging curve ball into the seats in left field.

The solo shot was his 51st round-tripper of the year, putting him within striking distance of 55, the single-season record first set by Sadaharu Oh five decades ago and later equaled by Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes and Alex Cabrera.

With 31 games left on the schedule, the native of Curaçao knows that getting to 55 could become challenging as Nippon Professional Baseball is not known for playing fair when foreigners approach the record considered to be unrivaled.

"As (the record) nears, pitchers will be reluctant to throw strikes," said Balentien in a statement issued on the Swallows' Web site after the game, an 11-7 loss to the Chunichi Dragons. "I sense that, but I'm concentrating on hitting strikes."

Oh, the former first baseman and manager who is one of the most highly regarded sports figures in Japan, set the record in 1964 when he was with the Yomiuri Giants. Since then there has been a blatant effort on a number of occasions - notably in games involving Oh himself - to ensure that it remains intact.

The Hanshin Tigers' Randy Bass entered the last game of the 1985 season with 54 home runs. He was walked four times by the Yomiuri Giants, who were managed by Oh.

In 2001, Tuffy Rhodes, while playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, came into the final five games of the year with 55 home runs. The outfielder faced challenges similar to Bass in games against the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, a team also skippered by Oh.

"They didn't throw me any strikes," said Rhodes by email, referring to the games against Fukuoka. "I had to swing at two pitches (out of the strike zone) if I wanted to hit."

The following year, Alex Cabrera, then of the Seibu Lions, as well complained about a lack of pitches over the plate after his pursuit of the record also stalled at 55.

Speculation has started in Japan's tabloid media about whether Balentien will suffer a similar fate. The online Business Journal went as far as to suggest that the negative publicity from a repeat of unsportsmanlike behavior would endanger Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. (The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to announce the winning city on September 7.)

Source: Tokyo Reporter
Dec 18
A strong snowstorm across Japan has left at least 3 people dead. (NHK)
Dec 18
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that up to 6 tons of water have leaked after being processed with water-cleaning equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 power station at the center of the 2011 nuclear disaster. (Jiji Press)
Dec 18
Sony Pictures has canceled the Dec. 25 release of "The Interview" after hackers threatened terrorists attacks and the largest multiplex chains in North America pulled the film from its screens. (Japan Times)
Dec 18
A Japanese lingerie maker is recalling more than 20,000 brassieres after complaints that underwires suddenly poked out, sometimes while women were wearing them. (Japan Today)
Dec 18
A group of Japanese researchers has sought opinions from academic societies on guidelines it compiled for uterus transplants aimed at childbirth. (NHK)
Dec 18
The Osaka District Court has ruled that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's order to check whether municipal office workers had tattoos was illegal and constituted an invasion of privacy. (Japan Today)
Dec 18
The Chiba Public Safety Commission has banned a 29-year-old man from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, from riding a bicycle for 90 days, after he was found guilty of cycling under the influence of "kiken" quasi-legal drugs. (Japan Times)
Dec 18
Police in Nara said Wednesday they have arrested a public school teacher for intruding into the bedroom of a woman who lives in the same apartment building as he does. (Japan Today)
Dec 18
Police in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, said Wednesday that a 37-year-old woman was found dead with knife wounds to her neck in her apartment on Tuesday night. (Japan Today)
Dec 17
A Dallas-bound American Airlines jet coming from South Korea made an emergency landing in Japan early Wednesday after encountering turbulence. At least 12 people on board the plane were injured. (NHK)
Dec 16
A couple in their 80s were stabbed by an intruder in their home in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, on Tuesday morning. (Japan Today)
Dec 16
Nineteen employees of Tokyo Metro Co are facing disciplinary action after they colluded to falsify mandatory alcohol tests. (Japan Today)
Dec 14
Heavy snow caused a power outage along parts of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line for about six hours on Sunday morning, leaving some 300 passengers trapped in a bullet train for 2½ hours near the mountainous southern border of Niigata Prefecture. (Japan Times)
Dec 14
From relative obscurity only two years ago, to doing various concerts around the world in 2014, the presence of BABYMETAL has been sudden, if not shocking. (Japan Today)
Dec 14
Police in Higashiyamato, Tokyo, on Saturday arrested a 72-year-old woman for killing her 54-year-old bedridden son. (Japan Today)