Ibanez returns to Phillies' home, 'a special place'

The Angels' Raul Ibanez. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

It was a highly anticipated return to Citizens Bank Park, but not the one that captivated the city of Millville.

While Millville's Mike Trout played his first professional game at the Phillies' stadium, his Los Angeles Angels teammate Raul Ibanez also experienced a homecoming of sorts.

This was Ibanez's first time back at Citizens Bank Park since he left the Phillies after the 2011 season, his third with the club.

"This place will always hold a special place in my heart," Ibanez said before Tuesday's game with the Phillies. "It was three of the greatest years of my career as far as teams go and a really special time."

In his first season, 2009, Ibanez appeared in his only World Series and earned his lone all-star appearance. The Phillies lost in six games to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Ibanez, who batted .304 in the World Series, experienced a range of emotions that postseason.

"It went from being the greatest feeling ever in professional sports to the worst feeling ever, being so close to [winning] the World Series that you could touch it," he said.

Ibanez, who turns 42 on June 2, did not start against lefthander Cliff Lee on Tuesday. He was hitting just .139, but entered the game tied for third on the team with 18 RBIs.

"I think historically if you look at Raul, you can see he is not a guy who gets off to a hot start, but when he finds it he keeps it for a long time," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he is definitely finding some things at the plate."

In his career, Ibanez's lowest batting average and OPS are in March and April, with an average of .257 and OPS of .758.

In his first season with the Phillies, he went against that trend, hitting .359 with a 1.151 OPS in March and April.

"I feel things are starting to click," said Ibanez, who hit 29 home runs last year for Seattle.

Despite his rough start, Ibanez has continued to enhance his reputation as a positive influence in the clubhouse.

"I have been with him now three or four months and I don't think I ever heard one negative thing coming out of his mouth," Trout said. "He is always positive, always cracking jokes, trying to get a smile on your face, and he is a great leader and teammate to have in the clubhouse."

When asked what he misses most about the Philadelphia area, Ibanez was quick to respond.

"The people - they are great people," Ibanez said. "I loved the honesty and straightforwardness of the people here and their appreciation for hard work."