The cell phone buzzes, and Steve Saunders glances at the text. Behind him, two members of the Eagles' offensive line grip dumbbells as polo-shirted trainers monitor their movements in a wall-length mirror. Ten miles away, across a river and a city and a snarled stretch of macadam, Raul Ibanez is engaged in a dashboard-pounding ritual familiar to most Philadelphia drivers. Saunders laughs and shows the screen of his phone to a visitor.
"This road sucks!," it reads.
Thirty minutes later, Ibanez strolls into Power Train Sports wearing sweat pants, a sweat shirt and thick facial hair that he hasn't gotten around to shaving. The beard, dark black with a patch of gray near the chin, offers a distinguished look, much different from the Tom-Hanks-in-Castaway vibe favored by Jayson Werth last season. As Ibanez prepares for the day's workout and grumbles about the traffic, he does so with a lighthearted flicker in his eyes.
This year, not even the Schuylkill Expressway can keep Ibanez from the gym.
"This," he says, "is much more normal."
Last offseason, nothing was normal for the veteran leftfielder, who enters spring training in the last year of a 3-year, $31.5 million contract he signed in December of 2008.
Surgery to repair two significant tears in his abdomen left him with a dramatically altered schedule, one that required him to rehabilitate his injury while also building his body for the upcoming season. When he arrived in Clearwater, Fla., last February, he declared himself healthy and ready to go, determined to prove he was the player who carried the Phillies for the first half of 2009 before returning from a disabled-list stint to hit .232 in his last 72 games. Instead, his struggles began anew: first in spring training, when he went 7-for-54 in Grapefruit League play, then in the regular season, when he entered the All-Star break hitting .243 with a .724 OPS.
As Ibanez floundered at the plate, searching for the swing that had carried him through 14 major league seasons, Charlie Manuel began working Ben Francisco into leftfield against lefthanded pitchers.
"He's always been a regular player, and it's kind of hard to slow him down," the Phillies manager said. "He thinks when he comes to the ballpark that he's going to be playing every day. Even last year, when I sat him, I had to bring him in, had to talk to him, tell him why. I think that he wasn't used to that."
Ibanez planning to be a strong presence for Phillies
Philly.com | Feb 16