Opener brings Ibanez butterflies, memories of mentors
Angels slugger credits hard work, positive role models for longevity
Monday at Angel Stadium, when we play against the Mariners franchise I spent 11 seasons in the big leagues with, will mark my 16th Opening Day.
To me, Opening Day symbolizes new beginnings, and it's an exciting moment. It's similar to when you're a kid and you're waiting for the Opening Day parade to happen at your Little League. It's that feeling of butterflies, that positive anxiousness for something new to happen. Obviously it's on a much larger scale here, but it never gets old. It's the beginning of another long journey, and it's the first day of everybody's ultimate goal, which is to win a World Series.
W: Hernandez L: Weaver
I think the older you get, the more you appreciate it, because you know that ultimately it's going to come to an end. And although you don't look at the end, you know that the end is near. I tend to appreciate everything a little more on a daily basis. I appreciate just looking around at a Major League facility -- looking at the grass and how beautifully it's cut, and how precise it is, and the colors of the signs and the seats, and getting to pull up to work every day in this great environment.
When I think back to my time with Seattle, I think of the two players who had the biggest influence in my career: Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer. They weren't only two of the best players on the team, but they were also the guys who worked the hardest -- and I started realizing that it was no coincidence.
Edgar Martinez was, in my opinion, the best hitter in the game at the time. And he was also the hardest-working guy. After a game I didn't play in, I would be walking to the food room and Edgar would be walking to the weight room, so I would turn around and walk in the weight room, too. I knew that if the best hitter on the team was working that hard, then I should go in there and work that hard, too. I see a lot of those same traits in Albert Pujols, with how he leads by example and sets a tone for the young guys.
I watched Edgar Martinez a lot, but I also asked him a lot of questions, and he was really good about sharing information about what he was doing and why he was so good. I've asked a lot of questions to a lot of guys, but he actually went in there and did the work. Moyer was the same way. What you do is more important, I think, than what you say. But when what you do and what you say is the same, that's really powerful. They were huge role models, because I wanted to play a long time and both of those guys, oddly enough, got better the older they got.
I thank God for that opportunity, because I was sitting there watching these two guys. I was a bench player at 27, 28, not an everyday player. And I had these two players and thought, "I'm going to be like them."
I never imagined I'd be in the Major Leagues at age 41, though. I never thought that far ahead, really. I was trying to survive at first. I think there was a deep, underlying belief that I could play in my 40s. But on a daily basis back then, I was not aware that this would happen; that I'd be blessed with playing this long.
The opportunity that I have right now, to suit up for the Angels, is very special to me. It's great that I get to play for a franchise I grew up watching. I remember having Nolan Ryan's baseball card, and watching guys like Chili Davis, Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon -- guys I also got to play against. What an honor it is to play for a franchise with that type of history, with that caliber of players.
I've always loved the ballpark, the food -- everything about Orange County. I just love it. It reminds me of Miami, where I grew up (minus the humidity).
A lot of people ask me when I'm going to retire, and whether this is my last season. The main thing is I want to go out on my own terms. I'm going to play until I don't believe I can play at a high level anymore. I'm not one of those guys who's going to keep playing just because somebody is going to keep giving me a job. If I don't think I can play to a level that's acceptable to me, then I won't play anymore.
And I'd love to end my career as a World Series champion. That's how I want to go out.
Raul Ibanez is a designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels. As told to Alden Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.