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Why we should count on Raul Ibanez during the 2011 Phillies Season


It was a sound that Phillies fans had bellowed many times before. Raul Ibanez photo: Associated PressA booming (emphasis on the “oo”) resonance cascading toward the playing field at Citizen’s Bank Park.
During the early part of the 2009 season, the sound could be heard on a nightly basis as the Phillies’ newly signed left fielder was rolling to his first All-Star season by scalding just about everything pitchers threw his way. He was hitting .340 with 19 homers and 51 RBI in those first 50 games in his new uniform.
The chants of “Rauuuuuuuul” were wildly popular, as were the player tee shirts featuring the phonetic spelling of that elongated moniker.  And the fact that the ultra-fit and hard-working Ibanez was one of the oldest regular starters in the league at age 37 seemed completely irrelevant.
Unfortunately, some time in May of that season, Raul Ibanez suffered what was later described as “multiple abdominal muscle tears“.  No one seems exactly sure when it happened, but it became pretty clear as the summer progressed that Raul was not the same player that opened the season so memorably.
The competitive reality for Ibanez was that surgery would have to wait until the end of that 2009 season. And from July through the World Series loss to the Yankees, he literally limped home to the tune of a .228 average. That November, he finally had surgery to repair those tears in his abdomen that he later admitted caused him “unbearable” pain throughout the season’s stretch run.

Ibanez’s injury is what doctors now refer to as a “sports hernia”.  It was a condition that frequently ended the careers of athletes until about a decade ago, when a few specialists finally got a handle on what it was and how to fix it. Ibanez didn’t have to travel far to find America’s most renowned surgeon for his injury.  Dr. William Meyers operates out of Hahnemann Hospital in center city Philadelphia, and is to the sports hernia what the legendary Dr. James Andrews is to the ACL repair.

So Ibanez had the surgery, and completed a rapid rehabilitation to be ready in time for Spring Training 2010.  After just three months, he was playing right field for the Phillies again, albeit in a way that indicated he was not 100%.

Ibanez never really got out of the gate in 2010. He hit (term used loosely) .130 in Spring Training and continued to struggle through the first 75 games of the season, with a .240 average and only 6 home runs.

At age 37, and scheduled to make $30 million dollars over the next two seasons, Ibanez had gone from a fan favorite to a scapegoat for a fan base frustrated by the stagnant Phillies offense.  Suddenly, those “oooooooo” sounds he heard following his at-bats were part of a more traditional Philly greeting.

As I type this article, I still remember watching Ibanez and knowing that he was not 100% recovered from his abdominal surgery.  I say this because not long before Ibanez had his surgery, I suffered the same injury, had surgery performed by the same doctor and followed the same rehabilitation schedule as the Phillies’ right fielder.Raul Ibanez photo: Associated Press

I still remember the day I finished running mile repeats on a track as I prepared for a local road race.  The aching in my abdomen made me think I had tweaked something that may require a few days off.

Those days turned into weeks, and eventually months, and that pain went from uncomfortable to debilitating.  It got to the point where I couldn’t even carry grocery bags up the steps to my front door, let alone pursue any of my athletic passions.

So, there was a real sense of relief when Dr. Meyers repaired my injury and I began the three month rehabilitation process that Raul Ibanez would eventually follow as well.  

While I am certainly not at the level of conditioning of a professional athlete as well trained as Raul Ibanez, I am indeed fitter than most people my age (which just happens to be 2 years younger than Raul).  But, what I discovered over the six months that followed my rehab was that, while I was back to my old physical activities, I was still not 100%. When I ran, I could not go to my highest gear.  When I played tennis, I couldn’t uncoil as powerfully on serves or groundstrokes.  And the biggest deficit still existed in my ability to hit a golf ball with power.

The point of this entire story is not to discuss my slightly under bogey-golf career or my recreational running exploits. It is to relay my experiences with the injury that Raul Ibanez attempted to return from in just three months. From my experience, it was nearly a year before I reached a point where it felt like I was back to 100% strength.

So, in retrospect, Ibanez’s 2010 spring training average of .130 didn’t really surprise me when I considered how little time had passed since his operation. Ibanez’s pedestrian first 3 months of the regular season also highlighted his apparent lack of full strength.

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Fortunately for Ibanez, his renowned fitness habits and top-notch resources did help him recover much faster than any non-professional athlete. Sure enough, as the month of July arrived, he began to hit himself out of that early season slump . Only 7 months after his surgery, Ibanez started to resemble his productive self.  After last year’s All-Star Break, he was one of the most productive members of the Phillies’ lineup, batting .309 with 44 RBI over his final 80 games.

November arrived on the heels of an NLCS loss, but for Ibanez, it marked the one-year anniversary of his surgery and he celebrated by doing what he has done throughout his 15-year Major League career: he trained his tail off. This winter, his off-season program  took place in Cherry Hill, NJ.  Ibanez worked with renowned personal trainer Steve Saunders in an effort to strengthen his legs and core muscles.  Apparently, one of the lingering effects of his abdominal surgery was that his swing had become heavily dependant on his arms and used much less of his core.

The most encouraging thing for Ibanez (and Phillies fans alike) is that this spring seems to be validating the theory that Raul’s improved health has him back to being a very productive hitter. In 15 games this spring, he has posted a .320 average with 2 homers, 6 RBI and 10 runs scored.

Ibanez has never lacked fitness, dedication to his craft, or character.  Those were the leading reasons the Phillies signed him in 2008.  As the 2011 season progresses, the prediction being made here is that we will hear less and less talk about Ibanez‘s age, contract, ability to protect Ryan Howard, or future in a platoon.  Those who cover the Phillies and root for them can save their worrying for some of the team’s other, more legitimate concerns.


Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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9:23 PM
Wed Mar 23 2011
How about that, Babirarz....

How about that, Babirarz.... you have something in common with a 30 million dollar man!

For the Phillies sake,  they better hope his abdominal tear heals better than yours..... he has more heavy lifing to do than lifting a bag a groceries if the Phils will be back in contention of the World Series.