The fans at Safeco Field stood, applauded and serenaded Raul Ibanez with the signature cheer of “Rauuuuuuuuuul!” when his name was announced. A shy smile of appreciation broke across his face.
He’d heard it so many times before, but this time it was different. This time the cheer wasn’t for a towering home run or a sliding double.
No, this cheer was an acknowledgement of his accomplishments outside of baseball. It was a cheer for a man who has felt blessed by opportunities given to him while trying to provide them for others. It was a cheer he will never forget.
Ibanez was honored as the recipient of the 49th annual Hutch Award at a Thursday-afternoon luncheon held on the grass of left field – a place he patrolled on three separate stints with the Mariners.
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The Hutch Award is given to the major league player who best demonstrates the honor, courage and dedication on and off the field exemplified by former big-league pitcher and manager Fred Hutchinson.
“Receiving an award that has nothing to do with what you do on the field or how you perform but more so about how you go about your business, really is the greatest award, that in my opinion, I could ever receive,” Ibanez said in front of a crowd of 1,000 people. “It’s humbling.”
Ibanez has long been active in charities, causes and the local community. He chairs the annual Mariners Care Cystic Fibrosis golf tournament, supports Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, works with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Treehouse, Covenant House Pennsylvania and Project H.O.M.E. and serves as a spokesman for the Mariners’ “Refuse to Abuse” campaign.
As part of the award, Ibanez toured the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Wednesday to see the work that’s being done.
“It’s really been eye-opening,” he said. “I had no idea what went on behind the scenes. I really encourage anyone and everyone who reads this or hears this to go and find out.”
Ibanez was amazed at the cutting-edge work and research that’s being done.
“They were able to dumb it down for me to make me feel like I could actually understand it,” he said. “These brilliant minds are right here in downtown Seattle doing this world-class research and work. They’ve thought of every detail.”
One of those details was the Hutch School, an accredited kindergarten through grade 12 school for children who are temporarily living in the area while undergoing serious medical treatment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Ibanez and Rod Carew, who was the keyntoe speaker at the luncheon, toured the school and met with children on Thursday morning.
“As a father of five kids, I can’t even imagine what these families are going through,” he said. “They are so courageous.”
It was the mention of his five children — Raul Jr., Luca, Sophia, Victoria and Carolina — that made Ibanez emotional during his acceptance speech. He fought back tears as he thanked his wife and family.
“I can’t even look at them,” he said as his voice cracked.
But he was able to get a few sentences after a few long pauses.
“My wife, Teri, who makes me strive to be a better man every day,” he said. “She should be standing right here.”
Ibanez also thanked the Mariners organization, specifically outgoing president Chuck Armstrong, for “instilling in us at a very young age that it was always about giving back.”
It was something Ibanez learned during his first major league spring training with the organization.
“They make it a point to teach you the importance and significance of giving back to the community and the responsibility we have as athletes and as members of this community,” Ibanez said.
He said that mantra was reinforced by teammates like Dan Wilson, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, who embodied the philosophy.
“I had some tremendous role models along the way,” Ibanez said. “They taught me that you can strive to be a great player, but also strive for the higher purpose of being a great human being.”
It’s a belief he’s maintained throughout his 16 big-league seasons. And something he tried to instill in others.
“Harvey Dorfman was one of my mentors, he passed away several years ago, but he would always say, ‘Who you are is what you do when nobody is watching,’ ” Ibanez said of the popular sports psychologist. “And that’s something I’ve always held very dear and I try to live my life by.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @RyanDivish