Two veteran Mariners outfielders on decidedly different paths returned to New York for the first time since leaving their respective teams this past off-season to sign with Seattle. Jason Bay was a flop with the New York Mets but has since revived his career with the Mariners, entering tonight with a .253 batting average, four homers and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .813.
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Raul Ibanez, on the other hand, was a playoff hero when he left the New York Yankees but has since struggled in Seattle, batting .194 with an OPS of .653.
“I feel a little more comfortable, at least in my preparation and in my role,” Bay told a large media throng that held court in the visiting team’s dugout a short while ago. “At the beginning of the year, I talked a lot to Raul (Ibanez). Him and I, the first few games, we were on the bench and I was like, man, knowing now, this was my role, I was asking ‘What do you do?’ It was more like formulating a plan because I knew early on I wasn’t going to play. I might get in there to pinch-run, for defense, hit here or there. So, it was just when to be ready, how to be ready. And that was kind of a process and I feel I got a handle on that.”
Bay says he now feels he’s ready for anything he’s needed for. He views it as “the evolution of a career” that bottomed out here in New York and led to the Mets releasing him with a year still to go on his contract.
Bay has given the situation plenty of thought. And naturally, he was asked about it by New York media members.
“Obviously, I was trying to do the things you think you can do,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I tried everything. It was to the point where I turned down offers from some clubs for more playing time to go to Seattle and be close to home and see how that worked.
“And then I had to basically make the team out of spring training, And I knew that. But it didn’t really change anything. It’s not like I worked any harder. It just comes with a different mindset. There were no external factors. It was all on me.”
Ibanez has much fonder memories of his season with the Yankees, where he became a valuable part-time outfielder and clubbed a pair of memorable home runs in the playoffs.
“It was a great experience, obviously, to be able to play in Yankee Stadium,” he said. “As a kid growing up, we watched games in Yankee Stadium. I grew up watching Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent and those guys…Thurmon Munson, Don Mattingly…so being able to be a part of that tradition, I had a great time. I really had a great time and I enjoyed it and now I’m over here trying to beat them.”
Ibanez said he never felt any added pressure playing in New York. He’s made it a point throughout his career to ignore the opinions of fans and media and focus entirely on what he needs to do as a player. But when it came to the expectation level of those following the Yankees, he agrees there is a significant difference playing in New York.
“I think the expectation to win on a daily basis is pretty significant in a city like this,” Ibanez said. “But as a player, that’s good. That’s good for you as a player and it’s good to be held accountable all the time. I enjoyed it.”
As for his own play this season, Ibanez feels he’s found some positive things the past few games.
“I think I’ve been better the last four games or so that I’ve played,” he said. “I’ve put some good swings together, I’ve hit some balls hard, gotten some hits, obviously. So yeah, I’m feeling better, I’ve been working on stuff and I think I’m ready.”