July 12, 2013 at 11:36 PM
For Raul Ibanez, an unexpected dream and chance to pass it on
Raul Ibanez spoke post-game about Ted Williams and all the fuss being made about how he’s now just five homers shy of tying The Splendid Splinter’s age 41 home run record of 29.
“My career should not be mentioned in the same breath as Ted Williams — ever,” Ibanez said. “But I did look to his season at 41 a few years back as inspiration because I wanted to see if guys late in their career back then could still do it. So, I did know that he had 29 home runs, but I didn’t come in here thinking that…I mean, early on how much was I going to play? I knew I was going to play sometimes against righties but, who would have thought? I just kind of go day-by-day.”
Ibanez mentioned others he derived inspiration from much earlier in his career. He talked of watching Jamie Moyer, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson and Jay Buhner, and of how they helped shape him as a man as well as a ballplayer.
“Guys like Jay and Edgar and Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer, they taught me more about life,” he said. “I didn’t have children, I wasn’t married yet. But they taught me more about being a good husband and a good father and I learned a lot of life lessons from them.
“Obviously, about hard work and all of that other stuff on the field, but I really looked up to them as men and as people.’’
And yes, he makes a concerted effort to be a role model for younger players in the clubhouse whenever he can.
“I’ve always kept that in mind that I’d like to be a mentor to them,’’ Ibanez said.
The Mariners have averaged six runs per game this month compared to 3.62 per night prior. They have scored 38 runs the first five games of this homestand.
There is clearly quite a bit of optimism around the lineup these days and Ibanez is emerging as its surprising leader.
He now is hitting .264 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .576 slugging mark. His 24 home runs are tied for the sixth most in franchise history before the All-Star Break.
That 438-foot shot into the Hit it Here Cafe in right field in the fourth inning was his longest home run of the year.
“I don’t care what number is next to his age right now,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “His bat speed is terrific.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge senses something big happening with his lineup, 1-through-9. And he feels that, this time, it’s legtimate.
“I do,” he said. “I think of each individual and how that fits collectively together. You’ve got to have that blind faith when the kids are working to get to where they want to get to. And we’ve had that. And now it’s paying off for them, it’s paying off for us. We’ve got a lineup we feel can go one-through-nine now and that’s important too. You’ve heard me talk about that from Day 1.
“And when you talk of being a better ballclub, you’ve got to do it in all areas. We’ve just been so rough in that particular area the past couple of years. We’ve shown signs of it ut nothing as consistent as what you’re seeing right now.”
We’ll have to see about the legitimacy part.
We heard similar talk a year ago when the Mariners cut a swath through some of the weaker AL teams in late July and throughout August. But none of that scoring or winning carried over to the early part of this season when the Mariners were trying to stay in contention.
Now, at 11 games under .500, they are showing renewed signs of offensive life.
The pitching wasn’t up to par the past few games, but Joe Saunders was tonight with seven scoreless frames. With runners on second and third and one out in a 1-0 game in the second inning, Saunders struck out a pair and kept his team in front.
“It was definitely nice to obviously come up there and get some big strikeouts and kind of get us back in the dugout with a little momentum,’’ Saunders said. “We definitely kept the momentum on our side.’’
Yes they did. Saunders helped by not giving runs rght back to the opposition as the Mariners had done so often lately.
But the story tonight was still Ibanez.
“From my perspective, it’s just fun to be a part of,’’ Saunders said of watching Ibanez. “To see him go out there day-in and day-out and do what he’s doing…hopefully he can keep it going. He’s quote-unquote maybe the ‘heart and soul’ of this ballclub. Really, the way he goes about it, the teammate he is and the leader he is.’’
Ibanez talked postgame about how when he was glued to the bench his early years, he’d ask Moyer every few weeks to tell him his life story. Ibanez wanted to hear it and know that he too could keep playing even if his career got going late.
“I was sitting on the bench and I wasn’t playing,’’ Ibanez said. “I always looked to him because he threw 83 mph and he was a great pitcher…and when I was sitting on the bench, I’d watch everything that Jamie did and everything that Edgar (Martinez) did because they were playing well into their mid-30s.’’
It would be tempting for Ibanez to wonder how his career might have turned out had he played more often those early years. I asked him tonight whether this late-career surge helps ease his mind about that, maybe making up for some of that lost time.
“Sometimes I think that because I didn’t play a lot those first three and a half years, it’s helped me play longer,’’ he said. “Because I didn’t have an extra 2,000 at-bats on me and on my body. So, I sometimes think it was maybe a blessing in disguise.’’
Now, he gets to pass that blessing on. To younger teammates who can watch and try to someday emulate.