'Cool' Raul Ibanez reflects on special 2012

Outfielder co-hosts benefit concert to help victims of Hurricane Sandy
11/30/2012 12:58 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Raul Ibanez's magical October helped the Yankees make a run to the ALCS.(AP)

Years from now, Raul Ibanez will no doubt continue to reflect on how he formed a six-man tag-team with Yankee Stadium’s mystique and aura by becoming the first player in Major League history to hit two home runs in a postseason game he didn’t start.

Standing in the on-deck circle in Game 3 of the 2012 American League Division Series, Ibanez wasn’t entirely consumed with facing Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson, baseball’s 2012 saves leader, with one out in the ninth inning, and the Yankees trailing 2-1 and facing a 2-1 deficit in the series.

Ibanez admitted that pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez was a lot harder than the actual at-bat. One swing, however, instantly placed himself and Joe Girardi -- who made the gutsy call to pinch-hit for A-Rod -- into New York Yankees lore.

It wasn’t enough that Ibanez homered to tie the game at 2. He did it again in the 12th to win the game, and started the clock on a whirlwind month.  He would hit another ninth-inning, game-tying shot in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, endure a bitter end to the season and enter the game played off the field -- the one that’s the life of a Major League free agent.

It was only recently that Ibanez actually began to look back at his magical run and think, yeah, Raul was cool.

“I really didn’t get an opportunity to take it all in, so I did a couple of weeks ago,” Ibanez told at the Tilles Center in Brookville, N.Y., where he helped host a benefit concert headlined by rock-and-roll legend Jay Black in support of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. “I just feel blessed to have the opportunity to take part in something so great. Unfortunately we fell short, but next year, moving forward, great things can happen in New York.”

Whether Ibanez, 40, will again play his part remains to be seen.  In his first season wearing pinstripes, he appeared in 130 games and batted .240 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while playing more left field than expected due to Brett Gardner’s elbow injury. Currently a free agent, Ibanez has opened communication with the Yankees about a return in 2013 with the understanding that he’s down on the priority list.

The team achieved its primary goals of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, and suddenly has a hole at catcher with Russell Martin’s departure to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“My time was fantastic with the Yankees,” Ibanez said. “I love the Yankees and Yankee organization and city, but at the same time, we’re talking to other teams too, doing the free-agency thing and hopefully something will work out.”

Even as a free agent, Ibanez has been the go-to guy for special appearances like Thursday’s “Music of the Night” concert. The event normally takes a year to prepare, but it was put together by Yankees community advisor Ray Negron in a mere two weeks. Ibanez appeared on stage for a brief Q&A with Negron and introduced eight-time Grammy Award winner Jose Feliciano to open the show.

“I grew up in South Florida and I know what hurricanes do,” Ibanez said. “I’ve seen devastation and have friends that have lost their homes and gone through very difficult times. Getting an opportunity to be able to give back and help out any way you can, this is a small thing for me to do with the community.”

Since Sandy devastated much of the New York metropolitan area, the sports world has done its part to help. Former Yankee and current YES analyst David Cone served as a guest bartender at Foley’s Irish Pub to help raise $8,000 to aid Sandy victims. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers joined other locked out NHL players for a charity game in Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 24. On Dec. 12, Madison Square Garden is hosting the benefit concert “12-12-12.”

“It’s about people pulling together for a good cause,” Ibanez said. “Sometimes, the perception is from the outside is that people from New York, everyone’s busy and running a million miles an hour, but in times of difficulty everyone pulls together. You saw it obviously in the worst time in our nation’s history, Sept. 11. New Yorkers rallied together and really became strong and united. This is one of those difficult times where there’s utter devastation going on. It’s beautiful that through such destruction and difficult times people pull together and really help each other out.”

From Ibanez to Black, and from Negron to Feliciano to Christian Lopez, famous for catching the home run ball Derek Jeter blasted for career hit No. 3,000, contributions have come from near and far. In a Yankee-like twist, Lopez’s father Raul played ball with Negron growing up. Since catching the ball -- and returning it to the Yankees' captain -- Lopez moved to Astoria and works as community ambassador for Modell’s Sporting Goods covering New York City. He has visited several devastated areas.

 “I still get phone calls from people asking for help and I try to do that to the best of my ability,” Lopez said. “[Giving the baseball back] is still the best thing I did. I have a career out of it now.”

In between performances, YES play-by-play broadcaster Michael Kay hosted an impromptu CenterStage with actor Chazz Palminteri to look back on the conception of “A Bronx Tale.”

"It’s beautiful that through such destruction and difficult times people pull together and really help each other out."
— Raul Ibanez

Before Black took the stage, aspiring singers Alessandra Gurcio and Lil Doc, aka Dwight Gooden Jr., performed “Yankee Miracle (Rise on Me),” based on Negron’s book “Yankee Miracles.” The new single is set to be released in January, and included a tribute to late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“This is the Steinbrenner way,” Negron said. “This is why we do what we do. I can’t hit a baseball like Derek Jeter or pitch like Andy Pettitte, but I can at least try and help people and this is what it’s all about.”

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