MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami judge ordered that baseball player Wladimir 'Coco' Balentien, a star player in Japan, can leave the United States to rejoin his Tokyo team after pleading not guilty on Friday to domestic violence charges.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge Dennis Murphy said Balentien can have his passport back, potentially leaving him free to travel to Japan in time for the beginning of spring training on February 1.
Last year he broke the single-season home run record in Japan with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, hitting 60 home runs in 130 games, breaking the longtime previous record of 55 set by legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh.
Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league begins its season in late March.
The Curacao-born, 29-year-old outfielder previously played in the United States for the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds.
Balentien was due to be arraigned on February 3 on two charges of false imprisonment and misdemeanor domestic battery, and will now not likely be required to appear in court until a trial is held.
When asked how long Balentien planned to stay in Japan, one of his attorneys, Omar Malone, said "hopefully for the whole season."
Assistant State Attorney Alejandra Lopez told the court she was concerned that Balentien, who is not a U.S. citizen, might not appear for his next court date if he was allowed to return to Japan.
Balentien is a public figure and a star in Japan who appears on national TV "every day," said David Rothman, who also represents the baseball player.
He has also agreed to sign an extradition waiver, his lawyers said, relieving Japanese authorities of any need to protect him if prosecutors in the U.S. sought his arrest.
Balentien, who is in divorce proceedings, had an altercation with his wife in Miami which led to the charges, according to court records.
The case is State of Florida v Wlodmir Balentien,
Writing by David Adams, editing by G Crosse