Wladimir Balentien: Athens Bound

InsidethePark.com has an unofficial motto. A mission phrase, if you will. "It's All Happening...Crazy." You could say that Wisconsin Timber Rattlers outfielder Wladimir Balentien is experiencing everything that our motto implies. Kevin Damask tackles the story on the M's top power prospect and his recent addition to Team Netherlands.

With the score deadlocked at four apiece in the bottom of the ninth inning, Timber Rattlers outfielder Wladimir Balentien found himself waiting patiently at second base. He had just smacked a double to left field to put himself in scoring position. Now it was up to his teammate, catcher Justin Ruchti, to bring him home. Ruchti gladly obliged.

The light-hitting catcher lined a base hit to right- center field. Balentien got a good jump, raced around third base, and headed home. He slid hard into the plate, just narrowly beating the throw home. For the second straight game, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers beat the Beloit Snappers in the ninth-inning by a single run, winning 5-4.

The crowd at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin, erupted in joy and everyone in the Rattlers' dugout ran onto the field to congratulate both Balentien and Ruchti. For the 20-year-old Balentien, it was certainly a moment to savor. Tuesday night's dramatic win, however, may be one of the last good moments he'll enjoy as a member of the Rattlers. On August 1, the native of Willemstad, Aruba will leave Wisconsin to join Team Netherlands and travel half-way around the world to compete in the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

"When I first found out that I was selected, I was so excited and I just couldn't believe it, " Balentien said. "I just have to try to do my best over there."

Balentien, who speaks in a laid-back, Caribbean accent, said the coach of team Netherlands was impressed by the numbers he put up in 2003. Balentien hit 16 home runs, drove in 52, and batted .283 for the Peoria Mariners of the Arizona Rookie League in his first season in the M's organization.

The T-Rats current team leader in homers displayed a great deal of power in his 50 games for Peoria and was named the teams' Most Valuable Player last season.

Rattlers' skipper Steve Roadcap has his own glowing opinion of his young outfielder.

"He's got power and he's a good outfielder with a good arm, but he has a lot to learn" said Roadcap. Roadcap admitted that it will be tough to lose one of the teams' best players, but realizes it's an opportunity Balentien can't pass up.

"It's a great experience for him. I wish every kid had that opportunity. I hope that he takes every minute he has over there to try and get everything out of it that he possibly can."

Balentien's professional career started at an early age as he was signed by the Mariners just days after his 16th birthday in 2000. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 165-pound outfielder played in the Dominican League in 2000 and the Venezuelan League in 2001 and 2002. Balentien commented on what it was like to leave home as a teenager to play baseball.

"It was hard because I was only 16-years-old and I had to be away from my family. But I love playing baseball and I chose to do it." said Balentien.

Balentien knows it'll be hard for him to leave the Rattlers because he was hoping to help lead the team into the playoffs. Now his focus shifts to helping Team Netherlands win a gold medal in the summer games. The island of Aruba, which lies in the Caribbean Sea, is a colony of the Netherlands. Balentien doesn't know much about the team he will join next week, but he thinks they have a shot to win a medal in Athens. "I know that they've qualified already and the hardest thing to do is qualify." Balentien said. "Now, I just have to go over there and help them win a gold medal."

Both Balentien and Roadcap agreed that competing in the Olympics can only help the outfielder's status in the Mariners' organization. Roadcap sees it as an honor for Balentien to compete with a select group of players. If anything, the Mariners will probably keep an even closer eye on the young prospect, because he'll be featured under the international spotlight. A strong performance by Balentien in Greece help the M's top power prospect vault higher up in the organization.

Despite missing part of the season due to an injury, Balentien has a .278 batting average with 46 RBI in 72 games. Along with his 15 home runs, Balentien has collected 13 extra-base hits in 245 at-bats. The Timber Rattlers will be losing their biggest power threat with the departure of Balentien, but manager Steve Roadcap said that someone on the team will have to step in and fill Balentien's void.

"I'm not sure if the Mariners' will send anybody to replace him or not," said Roadcap. "We're all going to pitch in and play as a team and we'll see what we're made of."

This summer, Wladimir Balentien is hoping to show the world exactly what he is made of.

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