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Philadelphia Phillies Inside Pitch 2008-12-22

Philadelphia Phillies Inside Pitch 2008-12-22
Raul Ibanez has heard the whispers.

Ibanez is 36 years old (he'll turn 37 in June), yet the Phillies recently signed him to a three-year, $31.5 million contract to be their new left fielder, replacing nine-year veteran Pat Burrell. Ibanez has averaged 113 RBIs over the past three years, but his defense, namely his range and arm, isn't particularly well-regarded.

Fan reaction to his signing, on blogs and message boards, has been mixed.

"I love hearing it," Ibanez said after being introduced in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. "It's one of the things I enjoy because I know that I can continue to be productive. I think that I can continue doing this for a while. I wouldn't have ... come here unless I was able to do that. I'm no stranger to adversity."

Ibanez has dealt with it for most of his life.

The son of Cuban defectors and a 36th-round draft pick out of a junior college in Miami who briefly was converted to a catcher in the minors, he sat on the bench for five seasons in Seattle and didn't become an everyday player until 2001 when, at age 29, he got traded to Kansas City. He spent three seasons there before returning to the Mariners as a free agent.

Talk to those who know him, and they'll rave about a work ethic that includes a daily three-hour training regimen and a reputable character.

"I felt fortunate to be a teammate of his in Seattle because, as a young player, I could go to him with whatever was on my mind," Phillies third baseman Greg Dobbs said by phone. "When I was the 25th guy on the team, he helped keep me motivated and kept pushing me forward. He helped me keep the faith."

Ibanez doesn't think about his age. If anything, he believes his body is fresher than a 36-year-old who has been playing regularly throughout his career.

"Guys kept telling me, 'You can't train that hard when you're 30,'" he said. "Then, I heard, 'When you hit 35, those day games after night games are going to be killers.' Finally, I talked to (former Mariners teammate) Edgar Martinez about it. I said, 'Edgar, what is this thing about 35? At 35, I feel just the same as I did when I was 30.' Edgar said in his super-wise way, 'That's for guys who don't work as hard as we do.'"

And what about his defense?

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn't anticipate having to replace him in the late innings, and assistant general manager Benny Looper, who worked for the Mariners for 23 years, said Ibanez will benefit from playing at Citizens Bank Park, where left field is less cavernous than at Seattle's Safeco Field.

"In this game, you get a label here or there, and it's very difficult to shake that label," Ibanez said. "I hope people will be pleasantly surprised."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: December 22, 2008

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