By Shannon Drayer
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Raul Ibanez hit a total of 27 home runs in his first six seasons in the big leagues. Then he turned 30 and had his breakout year with Kansas City and hit 24. Saturday night in Anaheim, at the age of 41, he hit his 29th home run of the season, the 300th of his career, and tied Ted Williams for home runs at age 41 or older.
“Obviously Ted Williams is the greatest player that ever lived. I am not,” Ibanez said in the clubhouse after the Mariners’ 6-5 loss to the Angels. “To be in that company just means I am old, I guess, and I have been doing this for a long time.”
Eighteen years in the big leagues, four years in the minors before his debut. One year separated from being an everyday player with the Phillies, Ibanez understood that signing with the Mariners last offseason would mean taking a reduced role. He couldn’t have seen the opportunity to have a shot at Williams’ record or 300 home runs with the role he believed he would have. Regardless, he would be ready if the opportunity presented itself and that is exactly what happened.
“I came in here with a situation where I probably wasn’t going to play too much and due to injuries and other things it worked out that I played a lot more than I was going to and I am thankful and blessed,” he said. “I am thankful for the opportunity.”
Twenty-nine home runs at the age of 41 doesn’t just happen. It took more than just a commitment to hard work and preparation in the offseason to achieve the level of play Ibanez has at this age. It took study as well. A realization that at this age, his strength was, well, his strength. What work would benefit him at this age the most? To learn more he sought those out who had success in their later years. Williams was the example he studied and now he has matched him at that age.
“It is about your drive, your will, and your determination,” Ibanez said of accomplishing this goal. “Fifteen years ago there were questions around me whether I was even a Major League player. I think it is a good lesson I try to teach my kids. It is more about perseverance and believing in yourself and not listening to the people who doubt you. The only thing that matters is what you believe and how you work toward that dream and that goal. Not allowing any external factors to get in your way. Being the best you can be and to strive for excellence.”
In the ninth inning of Saturday’s game against the Angels, a 95 mph fastball left the hand of Ernesto Frieri and found the barrel of Ibanez’s bat. As it traveled toward right field on a steep angle there was no doubt it was going over the wall. As Ibanez circled the bases the ball came back out on the field, thrown back by an Angels fan who had no idea of the significance of that home run. Ibanez got the ball back. He also took something else from the game, something far more precious.
“To have this one thing, and make no mistake about it,” he emphasized, “it is just this one thing I have in common with him, it’s a great blessing.”