Ibanez fondly recalls years with Phillies

Posted: April 20, 2012

NEW YORK - It was three hours before game time and Raul Ibanez was hacking away. In the batting tunnel underneath Yankee Stadium, Ibanez was taking one swing after another.

For somebody who turns 40 on June 2, or even somebody much younger, this looked like an exhaustive exercise. The swings came off a tee at first and then Ibanez faced a pitcher. Each swing had a purpose, all 100 of them, or so it seemed.

This is a routine Ibanez insists he does every day.

In his mind, it's not too much to ask, doing a pre-batting practice workout, before getting more swings on the field.

"You would be surprised if you stand around the cage, how many swings guys take in the course of a day," Ibanez said before Tuesday's 8-3 win at Yankee Stadium against the Minnesota Twins. "It's working and trying to perfect your craft."

Ibanez is one person who loves his craft, and thus his job. After three seasons with the Phillies, Ibanez is now playing a prominent role with the Yankees, serving as an outfielder or designated hitter against righthanded pitching.

Ibanez averaged 23.3 home runs and 86.6 RBIs in his time with the Phils. Not one to get too sentimental, Ibanez goes out of his way to express his satisfaction at his time in Philadelphia. It began with his making the all-star team in 2009, a season that ended with the Phillies losing to his current team in the World Series.

The Phillies were playoff participants all three years, but were eliminated by the eventual World Series champions the next two seasons - San Francisco in the 2010 NLCS and St. Louis in last year's NLDS.

"I loved my time in Philadelphia and it was nothing short of amazing. The fans were incredible and it was just an extraordinary experience," Ibanez said while sitting in the Yankees dugout. "The organization was fantastic, the guys on the team were tremendous and playing for Charlie [Manuel] was just phenomenal."

Ibanez played for the Phillies on a three-year, $31.5 million deal that expired after last season.

Asked if he still could have agreed to a new deal with the Phillies, even after declining arbitration, Ibanez chose not to elaborate on the situation.

"I respect all the clubs that had interest, but I find it kind of distasteful to talk about the situation," he said. "I can tell you that I loved the Phillies organization and they treated me first-class."

Ibanez, who signed with the Yankees for $1.1 million, with a potential $2.9 million to be earned in bonuses, hit just .150 (9 for 60) in spring training, although he did have a team-high three home runs. The fact that he hit an opening-day homer got Ibanez off to a good start with his new team.

He is hitting .282 with two home runs and nine RBIs after going 1 for 4 in Friday's 6-2 win at Boston.

The same qualities that endeared him to his former Phillies teammates and fans are serving him in New York. When asked what he brings to the team, manager Joe Girardi didn't hesitate.

"His professionalism, knowing how to play the game the right way, never being overwhelmed," Girardi said. "The guy really knows how to hit and also brings us a little bit of flexibility as well, because he can play the outfield."

Ibanez, born in New York to Cuban parents, had no answer when asked about the comments of Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Guillen, who later apologized, recently served a five-game suspension for praising Castro's ability to stay in power for so long in an article in Time magazine.

"I get paid to play baseball, and that is where my area of expertise [is] and my area of expertise will stay," he said.

Ibanez says he loves being with the Yankees, and even an old veteran can truly feel the mystique of one of the most storied franchises in professional sports.

"What is cool is that I get hitting tips from Reggie Jackson," he said. "I get to talk to Reggie, see Yogi Berra, Goose Gossage, these guys are living legends."

As are many of the current Yankees.

"It's a privilege and an honor to play with guys like Derek Jeter, A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], [Mark] Teixeira and Mariano [Rivera]," he said.

Ibanez says he keeps in contact with some of his former Phillies teammates, with whom he hopes to have a season-ending reunion.

"I hope they do well," he said. "I hope to see them in October."


Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @sjnard

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