Ibanez eyes leadership role in return to Seattle
Veteran slugger eager for homecoming, looks to make impact on young squad
SEATTLE -- Having scored 978 runs in his Major League Baseball career, Raul Ibanez understands what it means to come home.
So believe the 17-year veteran when he says he's excited about coming full circle once again after agreeing to a one-year deal with the Mariners on Saturday that brings him to Seattle for a third time.
Ibanez's $2.75 million contract hasn't been officially announced yet by the Mariners, awaiting completion of a 40-man roster move to create an opening for him. But the veteran outfielder said Sunday he's eager to join a young Seattle squad and has been told he'll get a chance to compete for time at left field, first base and designated hitter.
"Seattle is home for us now," said Ibanez, 40. "We were going to move back to the Northwest anyway in 2013. That was our plan. So the timing couldn't have been any better. It's an opportunity to have an impact on a team as a player and as a veteran player, being able to help out the young guys.
"The opportunity is there. If everybody pulls together and believes, great things can happen."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spoke earlier in the week about trying to bring Ibanez back to the Bronx for a second season and the Rangers reportedly were also among teams interested after he hit .240 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 384 at-bats last season and then provided some clutch postseason heroics as well.
Ibanez declined to talk about other offers, other than saying he was "humbled and flattered" by all the clubs that were interested.
"That was definitely fun," he said of his season with the Yankees. "Other than getting an opportunity to play in the World Series with the Phillies in 2009, that last postseason was obviously the highlight of my career. It was an amazing time, to be able to do it in a great city, wearing the pinstripes. But that chapter is behind me now. I wish them well and now I'm looking forward to this opportunity in Seattle."
Ibanez has spent two different five-year stints with the Mariners, who drafted him in the 36th round in 1992. He came up as a youngster and played mostly a part-time role from 1996-2000, then re-signed as a free agent after three seasons with the Royals and was one of Seattle's top hitters from 2004-08.
He and his wife, Teryvette, keep a home in the Seattle area and have returned regularly with their five children. He's currently living in Philadelphia, but says it'll be an easy transition back to the area where his kids still have friends and memories.
"I've always loved the Northwest, since '93 when I went up to [Class A] Bellingham and saw wild deer running around for the first time as a kid from Miami," he said. "The trees, the snow-capped mountains, the water, it's a beautiful place.
"I have great memories when I first came up playing with guys like Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, John Olerud, so many guys that were just a huge impact on me. We had some tough times when I came back the second time, but I learned a lot. I've always said it's the most beautiful ballpark in the world and one of the most beautiful cities. It's always felt like home."
But even while pointing out all the personal reasons for his family to return to Seattle, Ibanez noted: "All those domestic things are great, but the most important thing is developing a winner on the field."
In that regard, he'll be asked to provide both some offensive punch and serve as a mentor for a young team that manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik felt lacked veteran leadership last season.
Ibanez, one of the harder workers in the game, says the best thing he can do is lead by example.
"Do as I do is more important than do as I say," he said. "If I can back up what I say with what I do, then it's much easier to get the message across and help young guys become professionals and continue their production and grow.
"You want to develop an attitude of professionalism and team-oriented concepts, where the most-important thing at the end of the day is that the team wins. When you develop that as a group, a lot of great things can happen."