July 9, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Raul Ibanez having fun watching younger hitters transform Mariners
Sure, it might last just this one week or so, but the Mariners do have a different look than they did a week ago. And sure, at nine games under .500, waiting until July to show this new offensive look probably wasn’t the best idea. But we’re here now, so we might as well enjoy nights like this 11-4 demolition of the Boston Red Sox and dream about what could someday be.
Raul Ibanez might not be a part of that “someday” since he’s already 41. But wow, I don’t think anybody saw a season of 22 home runs prior to the All-Star Break by Ibanez, who has become an every day player once again and is now posting a .260 batting average, .306 on-base-percentage, .563 slugging mark and a tam-best OPS of .869.
Tonight, he had home run No. 22 and an additional RBI single back when this was still a ballgame.
Part of his secret? He’s learning to have fun and enjoy himself a bit more, knowing these games might be the last ones of his career.
“At this point of my career, I prepare for every game like it’s my last,” Ibanez said. “You never know when that moment’s going to come. I’m just trying to enjoy it and soak it in and stay in the moment. Not think about tomorrow, or the next at-bat. Just try to focus on that moment you’re in the box and on the field and try to enjoy it.
“We have a great group of young guys,” he added. “I’m having a lot of fun with these guys. They’re keeping me young.”
They are indeed. Justin Smoak had three more hits tonight and his .788 OPS is now superior to that sported by Kendrys Morales at .778.
Michael Saunders had two doubles for his first multi-extra-base-hit game since May 15. In fact, everybody in the lineup had hits tonight, including youngsters Nick Franklin and Brad Miller.
But as we discussed in this morning’s blog post, Smoak finally putting together the kind of season long expected of him could be the biggest second-half story this ballclub has.
Smoak spoke over the weekend of wanting to boost his runners in scoring position mark from the .130 batting average he brought into tonight’s game.
His two doubles tonight both came in such situations, one of them from his weaker right side.
“I think it’s just wanting it so bad,” he said of his RISP struggles. “I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself instead of going out there and relaxing, getting good pitches to hit and putting a good swing on it. That’s what you’ve got to do in those situations. I’ve watched Raul do it all the time…you’ve just got to go up there and relax like you would in every other at-bat.”
Just like Ibanez keeps doing.
He admits he never expected to play every day like he has.
“I definitely was not expecting to play that much,” he said. “Like I said, I’m trying to enjoy it. At some point last year, I think late in the season, probably September, I started just acting like it was my last game. And I started asking myself the question, if it was my last game, how would I act, how would I think about it and prepare? I try to enjoy it as much as you can, because at 41 years old you can’t play like this forever. I try to use that approach, to play the game and try to hopefully share that approach with the younger guys and say ‘Hey, time goes by really fast and just enjoy this.’ ”
Plenty of folks assume Ibanez would welcome being traded to a “contender” by month’s end. I’m not so sure. Seattle is where he has his permanent home and plans to retire with his family. They are here living with him now. He’s having a dream season with a younger team benefitting from him on and off the field.
Sure, if he keeps this up, maybe the Mariners would want him back next year in that reserve role he was supposed to be filling right now. Or, maybe he just rides off into the sunset on the strength of this unbelievable campaign so far. If so, I’m pretty sure he’d be happy finishing right where he is now, in the place it all began.
We’ll see. But he’s on the verge of some stunning history. And the younger guys watching can’t help but benefit from it.