To Ibanez, every Opening Day is special
Veteran outfielder looking forward to third stint with Mariners
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ask Raul Ibanez for his favorite Opening Day memory and it's not surprising that he comes up with a collage of recollections rather than a single vision.
After all, this is a guy who's been playing professional baseball for the past 22 years, including 18 in the Major Leagues, and has relished every one of those opportunities.
Ibanez is preparing for this third go-round with the Mariners, who begin their season Monday in Oakland and will play their home opener at Safeco Field on April 8. The 40-year-old outfielder can't wait to add those dates to his Opening Day collection.
W: Hernandez L: Anderson SV: Wilhelmsen
"I really liked my first Opening Day in Philly [in 2009]," Ibanez said. "It was a new place and they had a different ceremony and they raised the flag for their World Series championship. Even though I wasn't there for that [championship in 2008], just being part of that Opening Day ceremony was pretty cool.
"Of course, my first Opening Day in the Kingdome in 1999, when they used to run the spotlights around the field on the turf, I went through that whole thing and that was a great Opening Day. I loved being a part of the Opening Day lineup. I think my first Opening Day start was in 2002, and that was a special day.
"Then in '04, when I got to come back to Seattle and run down the red carpet in center field, which is just a great ceremony. I don't know if they still do that, but that's a great ceremony. The whole time, you're just thinking, 'Don't trip. Don't trip on the carpet. Lift up your feet.'
"I think I remember the Opening Day ceremonies more than anything else, but they're all special. It's Opening Day. It's the beginning of a new season, and if you're not excited for it, you shouldn't be playing any more. You shouldn't be doing this anymore."
Ibanez is still doing it, and for good reason. The father of five remains himself a child at heart. He's 40 going on 25 in his mind. Ibanez remembers the feeling he had for the start of baseball season as a boy growing up in Florida, and, well, some things don't change even when you're getting paid lots of money and playing 162 games a year.
"I'm telling you, it's very similar to Opening Day when you're a kid, the first day of the season and you want to sleep in your uniform and sleep with your bat and sleep with your glove," Ibanez said.
"We've all done that as a kid, because you were so excited for Opening Day the next morning. You wake up before everyone else in the house and you're just so excited to get started. It's a new season, a new beginning. It's really the same principle. You never lose that."
Ibanez signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Mariners in the offseason after hitting .240 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 384 at-bats with the Yankees last year. Ibanez knows there aren't too many Opening Days left on his card, but he's not going to concern himself with that thought when Seattle lines up along the first-base line in Oakland to celebrate the start of his 19th year in the Majors.
"I think you enjoy the moment while it's happening without looking back and without looking forward," he said. "Just be there. Be present in the moment for the guys, for your team and enjoy this time. If I start thinking if this could be the last one or one of the last ones, then I'm not going to be focusing on my job. And if I do that, then I'm cheating everybody."
But when pressed, Ibanez does allow himself to peek ahead to the moment he's thought about a lot in the past few months. His career has done the full boomerang this spring. He's back in the same Peoria clubhouse where it all began. Ibanez is putting on the old Mariners uniform that he's worn for 10 seasons in two previous spans.
Ibanez knows when the Mariners complete their first road trip to Oakland and Chicago and finally head to Safeco Field, his own professional baseball journey will have come full circle.
The humble pro doesn't know exactly what to expect, but you can be sure there will be a full complement of "Rauuuuuuul" chants greeting the longtime fan favorite upon his return.
"Going back to Seattle will be an amazing experience and an incredible moment," Ibanez said. "It will be a lot of good, positive emotions there. To be able to start a new season as a Mariner again and then to be part of such a great group of guys, I think this is going to be a special season for us. To be part of all those great things is just a blessing."