Hutch Award winner Raul Ibanez works to have no regrets
As he prepares for Hutch Award honors and for another baseball season at age 41, Raul Ibanez works out fervently, not wanting to have any regrets that he didn’t try hard enough.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Raul Ibanez pauses from one-legged step-ups on to a raised exercise platform, glances around his home gymnasium and picks up a plastic yellow stick.
He bounces the stick — actually the top part of a training hurdle — in his hand, testing for weight and debating a brainstorm. Then, he resumes the stepping exercise, holding the stick as if it were a baseball bat he was about to swing.
His personal trainer, Brian Henesey, nods approvingly.
“Dude, that’s nice,’’ Henesey says. “That’s smart. I like that.’’
At age 41, Ibanez figures his smarts are keeping him in the majors as much as his rigid daily conditioning. Introducing a hitting stance into simple leg exercises is another way to hone skills affording a life unimaginable as a once-unheralded bench player.
It’s a life Ibanez, his wife, Tery, and five children have made permanent in Seattle, even though his third Mariners go-round ended in December ahead of signing with the Los Angeles Angels. The commercial-size home gym, with Ibanez’s favorite gadgets and a professional batting cage, is among the finishing touches the family is making to their Eastside property as they settle here.
The putting down of Seattle roots also sees Miami native Ibanez reaffirming community ties through work with local charities. That work will be saluted Thursday, as Ibanez is presented with the 49th annual Hutch Award at a Safeco Field luncheon featuring Hall of Famer Rod Carew as keynote speaker.
For Ibanez, whose years here familiarized him with the award — presented by Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — the honor ties neatly to a career spent making the most out of what he’s been given.
“I think you’re blessed with an opportunity,’’ Ibanez says. “And if you don’t maximize that opportunity by making other people’s lives better, then I think you’ve missed the boat on what’s important and what it’s all about.’’
The Hutch Award is given to major leaguers exemplifying the “honor, courage and dedication” of Fred Hutchinson, a Seattle native and Detroit Tigers all-star and big-league manager who died of lung cancer in 1964 at age 45. Eleven Hall of Famers have won the award, including Carew, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski and Willie McCovey, along with various league and World Series MVPs.
Surviving winners vote on each recipient from nominees around the game. Ibanez mentions former winner Jamie Moyer as one of several ex-teammates — including Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey Jr. — he tries to emulate.
“These were men that impacted my life on a personal level,’’ Ibanez says. “I watched these guys as family men — guys who I idolized because of the way they played the game and prepared. But then, I had so much more admiration for them when I saw how caring they were and how devoted they were to their families and to their communities.’’
Moyer remains a Seattle fixture long after leaving for the Philadelphia Phillies, in part because of continued local work. Ibanez hopes for the same, saying part of him will “always bleed Mariner blue’’ and want the best for the franchise and community.
His 29 home runs last season tied Ted Williams for the most by a player age 40 and over. But the Mariners went in a different direction this winter, leaving Ibanez to sign with the Angels.
Figuring he’s got another “year or two’’ left, his daily workouts take on extra intensity. Ibanez says he owes the game and what it’s earned him.
“Regret is a powerful thing,’’ Ibanez says. “When I’m done, I don’t want there to be any doubt in my mind that I could have done more.’’
Ibanez hooked up with personal trainer Henesey on a whim in Philadelphia while concluding a three-season stint with the Phillies.
He’d sought a gym with a belt-squat platform and found — via online research — that Henesey had invented a modified version offering a freer range of motion and reduced back strain. They met at Henesey’s gym and have worked together since.
Henesey stuck with Ibanez when Ibanez signed with the New York Yankees in 2012 and then rejoined the Mariners last year. They discuss training by phone, and Henesey even flew to Seattle this month to spend a week at Ibanez’s home.
On his final day, Henesey puts Ibanez through grueling workouts, including one on his modified belt-squat platform. Ibanez wraps a belt around his waist, connected via a steel rod to plated weights on a loading pin beneath the platform.
As Ibanez squats up and down, he pulls the weights briefly up through a hole in the platform with the belt attachment, then lowers them. He squats several sets of six repetitions, resting briefly in between.
He does a final set of 300 pounds — equivalent to 550 to 600 pounds of a traditional back-squat exercise.
“If we’d done a back squat, I’d be so nervous because he could get hurt and I could get hurt,’’ Henesey says. “Here, if he can’t make it all the way up, he just has to sit back down and we take some weight off.’’
The modified belt squat is one of the two must-haves in Ibanez’s gym. There’s also a reverse hyper machine, where he lies on his stomach against a padded bench and swings weighted plates back and forth beneath him with his legs to improve back strength.
Henesey has Ibanez do pushups using medicine balls beneath his legs and hands. Ibanez also clutches 70-pound dumbbells while doing one-legged step ups onto a raised platform.
Ibanez and Henesey constantly tweak their approach with any simulated baseball activity they can.
“You deal with some athletes, they just want to check things off and say, ‘I did my workout,’ ’’ Henesey says as Ibanez seeks out the plastic hurdle top to hold as a makeshift bat. “He’s actually thinking, ‘How can I apply it to my craft?’ ’’
Henesey knows the work required by less-heralded athletes. He’d been an undrafted, 5-foot-10, 215-pound tailback at Bucknell University and was two seasons removed from football 20 years ago when he lobbied new Arizona Cardinals coach Buddy Ryan — ex of his hometown Eagles — for a job.
After pestering Ryan with faxes, Henesey posed as a Federal Express delivery man, gained access to the Cardinals’ training facility and slipped Ryan his football videotape. Henesey landed a tryout and made the team, appearing in three 1994 games.
“They should do a movie about this guy,’’ Ibanez says.
They’ve settled for producing the final act of Ibanez’s baseball tale. It’s a lonely process at times, especially when Henesey isn’t around and Ibanez’s wife is too busy with their kids to work out.
After Henesey leaves for a noon flight, Ibanez takes batting practice alone in his indoor cage facing an automated pitching machine.
Later, he sets up an automated Wiffle ball machine and bare-hands, or slaps down, offerings fired his way. It improves tracking of balls with his eyes.
“I can’t do it too long because my hand starts to hurt,’’ he says.
But he’s willing to go that extra mile, either in the gym or beyond.
Even before the Hutch Award, Ibanez was often lauded for community work. He’s chairman of the Mariners Care Cystic Fibrosis golf tournament and works with a statewide literacy program, the Make-A-Wish foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
But his biggest satisfaction comes from things nobody has heard of.
“It can be where you hear of a story and want to make a difference,’’ he says. “No one has to know about it. To be honest with you, those are my favorite moments and my wife’s — where we can impact lives and nobody has to know about it.’’
In other words, motivation from within.
Just like on a cold morning in January, when Ibanez heads to his gym to extend a career already on borrowed time. A career few imagined would make so much out of so little.
“When it’s all over,’’ he says. “I just want to know I did every last bit that I could.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286
On Twitter @gbakermariners