TOKYO -- The enthusiastic evocation that echoed inside Tokyo Dome during the Netherlands' 14-1 win over Cuba on Wednesday afternoon (Tuesday night in the U.S.) when Wladimir Balentien homered in each of his first two at-bats was no coincidence.Neither was the success the Netherlands outfielder had during the second round
TOKYO -- The enthusiastic evocation that echoed inside Tokyo Dome during the Netherlands' 14-1 win over Cuba on Wednesday afternoon (Tuesday night in the U.S.) when Wladimir Balentien homered in each of his first two at-bats was no coincidence.
Neither was the success the Netherlands outfielder had during the second round of the World Baseball Classic. The Curacao native felt right at home in Tokyo, where he has played the past six seasons for the Yakult Swallows.
Balentien went 8-for-13 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his three Pool E games, helping the Netherlands advance to the World Baseball Classic semifinals for the second straight tournament and earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Tokyo second-round pool.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Balentien played in the Major Leagues for parts of three seasons before going to Japan, spending 130 games with the Mariners from 2007-09 but also for 40 games with the '09 Reds. Balentien is now 32 years old and has signed to play this season with the Swallows, but he hopes his performance in WBC 2017 might earn him another look from a Major League team.
"I'm going to show everybody that I still can be that player that I am when I was younger, and at least now I'm getting better as a hitter," Balentien said. "You know, I'm getting older and I'm understanding more of the batting. I think playing this tournament, having success, probably hope it opens a couple more doors for me, maybe, coming back to the States. Who knows? But I'm happy; I'm having a great tournament right now."
Balentien is already a star in Japan. He has homered 30 or more times in four of his six seasons with the Swallows, and he made Japanese baseball history by hitting 60 home runs in 2013.
Even with a talent-rich team headlined by big leaguers Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons and Jurickson Profar, the Netherlands is viewed as an underdog in this year's Classic -- at least in contrast to the loaded Pool F dueling on the other side of the Pacific.
Balentien has been the Netherlands' cleanup hitter in each of their first six games for manager Hensley Meulens, who is entering his eighth season as the Giants' hitting coach.
"We have a lot of Major League players, a lot of great hitters," Balentien said. "But I mean, [Meulens] believes in me and knows what I can do, and to have my bat in the middle of those Major Leaguers was huge, so we have to give Hensley all that credit."
Signed by Seattle as an amateur free agent in 2000, Balentien climbed the club's farm ranks and became one of its top prospects by 2007. But in his first full MLB season, he struggled to a 30.4 percent strikeout rate and a 55 wRC+ (league average is set at 100), and he was eventually traded to Cincinnati, where he finished the '09 season and didn't make the club's big league roster in '10. After a year in Triple-A, Balentien was granted free agency and signed with the Swallows.
Balentien was part of the Netherlands' run to a fourth-place finish in the 2013 Classic, posting a .304/.360/.435 slash line and becoming one of the significant cogs in an underdog story that became the talk of the tournament. Coupling his resounding success in NPL, Balentien entered this year's Classic hoping to showcase his value on an international platform -- and potentially make his way back to the Majors. Balentien is under contract in '17, but he's expressed hope to return to the big leagues in '18.
With Wednesday's win over Cuba and Israel's loss to Japan, the Dutch have punched their ticket to the final round at Dodger Stadium.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.