The guy with the 647 career home runs had been pushed aside. The guy who has a good chance to finish number one in three major categories (home runs, runs, RBIs) was told he wasn’t needed. Alex Rodriguez was told he wasn’t Alex Rodriguez anymore. “Ibanez for A-Rod” in Game Three will be talked about for as long as baseball is played. However, the connection between the two started almost two decades ago.
As I watched from my seat in section 413, row 14 seat 17 last night, I was all but sure the Yankees would lose Game Three. The crowd had been dead all night, 2-1 might well have been 10-1. There was no life. No emotion. No fight. Ichiro stepped up to the batters box in the bottom of the ninth, trying to start a rally.
Then Raul Ibanez stepped up into the on-deck circle.
After the first pitch to Ichiro, I looked to see Alex Rodriguez warming up, waiting for his at-bat, waiting for the boos to rain down upon him. Number 27 was getting loose, not number 13. Ichiro popped out to the left-fielder, bringing Ibanez to the plate, and well, the rest as they say is history.
Alex Rodriguez was raised in Miami, Fla. and attended Westminster Christian High School. In 1992, he was considered the nation’s top player, a bonafide star in the making, a surefire, can’t miss shortstop prospect. He was drafted in the first round (number one overall) by the Seattle Mariners that year. A-Rod would spend about two years in the minors, before getting called up in 1994 where he had 54 at-bats. In 1996, A-Rod arrived. He amassed a league-leading .358 average, league-leading 54 doubles to go along with 36 homers and 136 RBI – all at the age of 20. The sky was the limit and he was just beginning.
Raul Ibanez was raised in Miami, Fla. and attended Miami Sunset High in Kendale Lakes, only 30 minutes away from Westminster Christian. Ibanez wasn’t the most naturally gifted player, but still major league caliber – he was originally a catcher. He too was drafted the same year as A-Rod. Ibanez was taken not in the first round, not in the second, or for many more thereafter. He was drafted in the 36th round (1,006th overall) also by the Seattle Mariners. It took Ibanez a little longer to make it to the big leagues, arriving on the scene the same year A-Rod burst onto it in ’96.
Ibanez had five at-bats that year, and went hitless. His best year of that first stint in Seattle came in 1999, when he hit .258 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs. A-Rod’s best year with Seattle came in 1998 when he hit .310 with 42 homers and 124 RBIs. Both players left Seattle after the 2001 season, going opposite ways in their respective careers. Ibanez to Kansas City and then back with Seattle. He would go on to have a very respectable career, becoming an all-star in 2009 for the Phillies. A-Rod of course went on to put up historic numbers with Texas, although they are tainted. He arrived with the Yankees in 2004, but it took him five years to get that first ring.
Both player’s could not be any different all those years ago, with regards to natural ability, personality, even appearance. But now they find themselves on the same team, fighting for the same thing. At one point, it appeared the two played on completely different, levels, different planets. Ibanez watched as a guy three years younger morphed into a god. Now, they are equals, trying to bring home the Yankees 28th championship.