I was going to post this earlier, but I couldn’t locate a link. So with some help from TNT guru Ian Swenson, I was able to get full text of it. In 2009 after he left the Mariners in the offseason and signed with the Phillies, I caught up with Raul Ibanez in his second regular season game with the Phillies. Here’s the column I wrote about him and his attitude toward the game of baseball.
DENVER – One of the most asked questions I receive when people find out what I do for a living is, “What’s so-and-so really like?”
Usually, it’s about Ichiro Suzuki.
My response, “interesting style sense, oddly flexible and obsessive-compulsive about his bats.”
Erik Bedard? “Interesting personality, quietly competitive and intensely private.”
But if someone were to ask about Raul Ibañez, I’d tell them of a random Sunday late last July when the Mariners’ season was already in ruins. While Yuniesky Betancourt lounged on the couch watching soccer on television in the clubhouse, Jose Vidro was admiring his latest and hideous Ed Hardy T-shirt and Kenji Johjima was reading a fishing magazine at his locker, Ibañez was out in sunshine at Safeco Field laboring in the batting cage taking optional batting practice.
Usually things such as early or optional BP is reserved for rookies, guys tinkering on their swings or bench players trying to stay sharp, but there was Ibañez swinging, sweating and working. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this: he did it close to every day. But if there was ever a day to take off, it would’ve been that day.
As he walked by, I queried, “One of the team’s top hitters is taking optional BP?”
He smiled and said, “It’s what I do.”
So as I searched the visitors’ clubhouse at Coors Field last weekend to talk to Ibañez about the 2009 season and his new team, the Philadelphia Phillies, Ibañez was predictably taking early batting practice in the indoor cages.
When I finally interrupted his maniacal pregame routine, what was supposed to be a general interview about his new team and his new contract turned into an intense discussion on his preparation and his attitude.
Words such as obsessive, compulsive, maniacal, insane seem to be appropriate when it comes to how driven Ibañez is in his need to achieve and improve. “It’s kind of psychotic, ” he said.
Perhaps, but it seems to have worked, considering Ibañez went from a converted catcher drafted in the 36th round of the 1992 draft to signing a three-year, $30 million contract with the Phillies this offseason.
Of course, the rest of the offseason was spent just as he spent the previous 11, training furiously and daily.
Just ask Mike Morse, who has taken part in the grueling sessions with Ibañez in Miami.
“Raul is a machine,” Morse said last season. “Those workouts are brutal.”
And they are every day, three hours a day with weightlifting, speed work, core work, sport specific activities. Any exercise or drill that will help him improve, Ibañez does it, and does it until his body aches.
“It requires a sacrifice,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you feel good about making that sacrifice.”
It’s a sacrifice that leads to results.
But Ibañez’s day isn’t over with just the workout.
Then there’s hitting. Sometimes hours at a time. At least the cage is at his house.
“I can get lost in there for hours,” he said.
It leaves Ibañez’s wife, Teryvette, shaking her head.
“She thinks I’m a psycho,” he said. “And I guess it is kind of crazy if you think about it. It’s like studying every day for a test that doesn’t come for four months.”
But Ibañez doesn’t think his mind-set is necessarily a bad thing. He thinks it’s a characteristic of most baseball players.
“Everyone in here to get to this level has some type of obsessive personality to do this,” he said.
And the great ones are just a little bit more obsessive than others.
“All I know is that the best players that I’ve been around that have had the most success over long periods of time have one common denominator – they all work harder than everyone else,” Ibañez said.
More importantly to Ibañez, most great players have never been told they need to work hard.
“I think they just do it,” he said. “It’s about people that want to improve. It’s part of your personality. It’s because you love doing this and you have this unquenchable thirst to do this. It goes beyond baseball to whatever you feel passionate about. You put everything you have in it to find ways to improve.”
It’s an attitude that he’s found on several members of the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino had all joined him in the early BP session that day.
“These guys are young stars, but what they do is work extremely hard,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a collective group of great players with an incredible desire to keep improving.”
So, can he understand players who, even though they may not have that desire, still don’t make more than a token effort?
“Can I understand it?” he said. “Well, some players are good without it.”
But as Ibañez says it, you can tell he doesn’t believe it or understand it.
Ibañez has never been the most talented player, which he’ll readily admit. He’s a worker, a grinder who achieved his success more out of labor and less out of life’s gifts.
“It’s not that hard of a formula to understand,” he said.
Perhaps, but though he’ll never admit it, some of his former teammates don’t seem to understand the formula, or worse, even recognize there is one.
The most frustrating aspects of the 2008 Mariners was the three most productive players – Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre and Ibañez – were also the hardest workers but their mentality didn’t seem to resonate or rub off on other players.
When asked if he didn’t train so hard in the offseason or do things such as take extra batting practice daily, Ibañez interrupts with the answer, saying “I wouldn’t be here, without a doubt.”
With that, he headed off to the video room to do some swing study – just a little more work before the game begins.
And that’s what Raul Ibañez is really like.