Here's the thing about mind over matter. At some point, matter wins. The role of the mind is to postpone the victory as long as possible.
Raul Ibanez is well aware of this.
""The moment that I say, 'I can't have a better season than last season,' then it's probably time to go home," Ibanez told me last week as I interviewed him for a story that runs in today's paper.
But here's the catch: Ibanez doesn't think he has had that season yet.
Some people might point to last season, when Ibanez's first-half struggles were so significant that Charlie Manuel admitted yesterday that the left fielder probably "saved himself" with his second-half resurgence. Ibanez's power numbers were down last season: His 16 home runs were the fewest of any season in which he played at least 124 games, and more than half of his total from 2009 (34). His slugging percentage was more than 100 points lower than the mark he posted the year before, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was the second-lowest of any season in which he logged at least 400 plate appearances.
But there is a counter-argument.
Ibanez' .793 OPS ranked just 14th among the 28 NL outfielders who qualified for the batting title. That might not sound very good. But then you look at some of the players he finished above: Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Matt Kemp and, yes, Shane Victorino. If you are into old-school statistics, Ibanez's 83 RBI were more than those posted by Andre Ethier, Jason Heyward, Pagan, and Victorino.
The point? Every baseball season is chock full of players who suffer through subpar seasons. Most people would assume that Matt Kemp's 2010 campaign was an anomaly. Most people assume Raul Ibanez is just old.
Ibanez, not surprisingly, does not think that way. In the story that ran in today's Daily News, I didn't get as much of a chance to relay Ibanez's philosophy on aging as I would have liked. I think this excerpt from our interview sums it up nicely:
"I think that people allow themselves to be told how they are supposed to feel," Ibanez said. "I've been blessed with phenomenal strength guys over the years, guys who are on the cutting edge of everything, so I'm on the cutting edge of everything strength wise. I think that there's a lack of understanding. I think that the most important thing when players get older is they lose a little bit of their fire. You know what I mean?. . .I always make sure to train with 23, 24 year old guys, so you go through the workouts and what's the difference? If you are excelling in these workouts with these guys, what is the difference? I just don't understand that part. If I can do the same workout that this young stud can do, and run through it with him, I don't understand what the difference is."
Ibanez has taken a lot of advice on aging from former teammate Edgar Martinez, who hit .294 with a .919 OPS and 62 home runs during his 38, 39 and 40-year-old seasons with the Mariners. Ibanez's numbers in his 37 and 38-year-old seasons with the Phillies: .273, .843 OPS, 50 home runs.
"He was a guy that I definitely looked to, and I think about that, how good he was at an older age," Ibanez said. "And I actually asked him about that two years ago when I hit like 35. I said, What are they talking about? You get old, and I feel great. And he said, it's for the guys who don't work as hard. The guys who don't work as hard as we do, that applies to them, but for the guys who work hard, it doesn't apply to them. I've talked to him a lot about different stuff and different adjustments that he may have made, and he's helped me a lot with that: Swing approach, stuff like that. We've talked this offseason about it."
I asked other people why they think Ibanez can still be productive at 39 years old: Martinez, Charlie Manuel, Phillies assistant GM Benny Looper, who was with the Mariners when they drafted Ibanez.
All of them included two words in their respons: work ethic.
Of course, even the most ardent of work ethics cannot overcome mother nature. One year after posting an .895 OPS for the Mariners as a 40-year-old, Martinez hit a career-low .263 with a .727 OPS and retired. He evidently felt that he couldn't get better.
Ibanez feels the opposite.
Below is some video I took from one of his workouts with personal trainer Steve Saunders. Obviously, I'm not a professional. But I thought you would be interest in taking a look at Ibanez in action.