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NPB: Players Flock to Japan for Spring Camp


At this moment, ballplayers from all over the world have converged on camps that begin in a handful of hours on February 1st. Most players will be preparing for the season on Kyushu and Okinawa, but some of the youngest guys will be working out in potentially colder places to the north. Infield chatter may still involve teeth.

February doesn’t feel like spring, because it isn’t actually spring yet. Spring Camp eventually gives way to spring, so using “spring” in the name might be meant to remind squads of an achievable future goal rather than actually describing the present climate in much of Japan. It’s winter. It’s Winter Camp.

Foreign players aren’t the only ones coming across the Pacific Ocean for baseball. Some Japanese talents have been playing overseas in winter leagues that thrive under sunny skies in the Caribbean, Latin America and Australia. A number of players have had workouts and training in the United States too.

Masahiro Tanaka and Casey McGehee will not be reporting to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, but Kevin Youkilis will be in camp. Fan favorite Nyjer Morgan is no longer with the Yokohama BayStars, but Tony Barnette and Orlando Román are rejoining their Yakult Swallows teammates. Last minute impulse buy Yuniesky Betancourt will soon be joining the Orix Buffaloes. Nobody saw that coming.

Another exciting addition will be Hideki Matsui. He likely won’t be frolicking with the Giabbit very much. He’ll be too busy helping young hitters with the Yomiuri Giants. Camp is underway very soon, but even the return of Godzilla hasn’t been the biggest story going into Spring Training.

It’s been Coco.

Wladimir Balentien has already arrived in Japan and will be reporting to camp on time with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He briefly addressed the media about the charges he faced in Florida in a press conference on Wednesday.

“I’m here in front of you guys today because, first of all, I just want to apologize to my fans, I want to apologize to the Yakult Swallows fans, I want to apologize to the organization, the Yakult Swallows, and I want to apologize to my teammates,” Coco Balentien said.

It was the second time he had appeared in front of the media since the incident at his home in Florida. His first communication was a statement read to the press in Miami on the 16th:

“I am embarrassed to be here today, but it’s my own fault. I apologize to my family, my team and the people of Japan. God blessed me with a beautiful daughter – a baby daughter, along with a family, a terrific job, some talent and an opportunity to live and work in one of the greatest countries in the world. I never take for granted that I can play baseball in Japan for a living. I’m very grateful for those blessings, but I made a mistake and now I’m here,” his voice broke for a moment during the last word, then he continued, “I want to thank my family for their loving and support, my team for standing behind me, and the judge and prosecutor for treating me fairly. I’m sorry. I hope the people of Japan will give me another chance.”

Whenever a ballplayer is involved in a domestic dispute, a long list of names come to mind: Brett Myers, Alberto Callaspo, Dmitri Young, Milton Bradley, Kirby Puckett, Wilfredo Cordero, Jose Canseco, Brian Giles, Derek Lowe, Bobby Cox, Francisco Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Julio Mateo, Pedro Astacio, Bobby Chouinard, Miguel Cabrera, Scott Erickson, Kris Benson, et al.

Everyone remembers at least one of these guys. Fans steeped in history could add a dozen or two more. Some cases were unspeakably violent. Some were part of a long pattern of abuse. Others seemed more like two angry people who should have stayed away from each other. Baseball is no different than any other walk of life.

By all accounts, what happened at the Balentien home did not escalate to the point of any of those aforementioned cases. He grabbed his wife by the arm, took her to a bedroom and locked the door. The police arrived moments later. He was arrested peacefully. He was released on bail and entered a plea of not guilty at his hearing. He was given permission to go to Japan. No further action is expected this season.

It’s still sad to imagine a little girl seeing all of this unfold in her house. There are some things that only time and trust can fix.

As the frost gives way to a brand new year of second chances, Coco Balentien is every bit as hungry as the kids working out in the cold north.