Wladimir Balentien suited up for the Netherlands at the Olympics in Athens in 2004, a point in his career before he’d made his MLB debut or even given the first thought to playing in Japan. Balentien might be in the process of winding things down four years from now, but the Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger isn’t ruling out another trip to the Summer Games.
Baseball, which hasn’t been on the Olympic program since 2008, was one of five sports formally approved for inclusion for the 2020 Tokyo Games on Wednesday, and Balentien was happy to hear the news.
“If I’m still healthy and in good condition, of course I want to play,” Balentien said Thursday after batting practice at Jingu Stadium, where the Swallows were preparing for the night’s game against the Hiroshima Carp.
Balentien will be 36 in 2020, but has no doubts he’d still be able to play.
“Easily,” he said.
While playing in the Olympics is something to consider in the future, Balentien is more worried about staying on top of his game in the present.
Balentien is hoping to put a below average performance at the plate in July behind him and got that mission off to a decent start in August. He had four hits, including a home run, and three RBIs, through two games at home in August entering Thursday. He hit just .231 with three homers in all of July.
“I think I just like hitting in Jingu,” he said with a laugh.
Balentien said he hadn’t picked up anything from watching film or made any significant changes that would account for his form over the last two games — which accounts for a very, very small sample size.
“Some little stuff,” he allowed. “But not any big changes.”
Balentien said he’d been using too much of an uppercut swing lately and had been getting under the ball. Swallows manager Mitsuru Manaka pointed this out to the slugger during the team’s series against the Hanshin Tigers in Osaka July 26-28.
“It’s true, what he was saying,” Balentien said. “That’s why I’ve been missing a lot of balls. So I’ve just tried to work on that a little bit.”
The native of Willemstad, Curacao (where the average temperature during June, the hottest month, is 29 degrees), is also working on keeping himself cool and in good condition during Japan’s notoriously hot and humid summer months.
“You never get used to this weather,” said Balentien, who is in his sixth year in Japan. “You just have to try to keep your body cold. It’s hot already, so you’re going to get tired faster than you normally do. So just reduce your work and try to keep your body fresh.”