- Last Updated: 1:45 PM, November 19, 2012
- Posted: 12:54 AM, November 19, 2012
Just last week, before 11-year-old Raul Ibanez Jr. left for school one morning, he convinced his dad to watch highlights of this year’s American League Division Series Game 3 between the Yankees and Orioles.
“I got goose bumps watching it,” the elder Raul Ibanez told The Post Saturday in a telephone interview, “because when you’re playing and when you watch it happen, it’s two completely different things.
“You realize what a neat thing it was to be a part of something like that, as a Yankee. Wearing the pinstripes while you’re in the postseason and being a part of that. All of that stuff. It was really magical and a lot of fun.”
Ibanez hopes the fun will continue. The 40-year-old, a free agent, said he intends to keep playing and his first choice is to re-sign with the Yankees. “If I get an opportunity to play for the Yankees again,” he said, “it would be fantastic.”
But first, Ibanez wants to pay back the community that embraced him. On the night of Thursday, Nov. 29 at Tilles Center Concert Hall in Greenvale, Ibanez will serve as a special host — along with YES and ESPN Radio broadcaster Michael Kay and actor Chazz Palminteri — at a benefit concert for those impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Jose Feliciano headlines the musical acts; tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.
“I’d like to be a part of something that’s going to help out,” said Ibanez, whose home in the Philadelphia suburbs lost power for a couple of days due to Sandy. “As a human being, when you see a situation that way and being blessed, having played for the Yankees last year when this happened, there’s always something you can do.”
Ibanez was born in Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital and lived in The Bronx for about a year before his family moved to Miami. With the help of Yankees community relations consultant Ray Negron, Ibanez quickly became one of the most active players in the community last season; Negron is one of the benefit’s organizers.
While he reacquainted himself with his first home, Ibanez became a beloved member of the Yankees’ family with several key hits. During the regular season, he tallied a .286 batting average, .367 on-base percentage and .571 slugging percentage in plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the Yankees tied, ahead by one or with the tying run at least on deck (thanks, baseball-reference.com). And that served as a mere appetizer for the postseason.
In the ALDS Game 3 Raul Ibanez Jr. loves to watch, his dad pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning, with the Yankees trailing by one, and he slammed a game-tying, one-out homer off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson. Then Ibanez hit a walkoff blast in the 12th off Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz. The double-whammy made Ibanez the first player in baseball history to homer in the ninth inning and then in extra innings of a postseason game.
He delivered additional magic in the AL Championship Series, knocking a game-tying, ninth-inning, two-out, two-run homer off Detroit’s Jose Valverde in Game 1. The Yankees lost that game in the 12th inning, however, and the Tigers proceeded to sweep Ibanez and his teammates out of the playoffs.
With more than a month’s distance since the season’s conclusion, Ibanez looks back fondly on his first go-round with the Yankees.
“No matter what you’re going through at the plate and what the team is going through collectively, every day I woke up and I was excited to go to the ballpark and see my teammates and be a part of the team,” he said. “There’s just an amazing experience and a special environment that they have going on as far as the clubhouse goes inside of that locker room. It’s a great place to play and to work.”
The Yankees have significant interest in retaining Ibanez — he could help fill the void left by Nick Swisher in right field and contribute once again at designated hitter — but they’ve asked Ibanez to hang tight while they resolve the situations with their starting pitchers and Mariano Rivera.
“I know they have certain needs that they need to go after first,” Ibanez said. “I’m open to anything. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play in The Bronx again. That would be great.”
No matter how things turn out, though, “I feel like there’s going to be a connection there forever,” Ibanez said of New York. He’ll honor that connection next week.Follow @NYPostsports