The Mariners' Raul Ibanez and Dave Hansen know that strumming a guitar can help in stroking a double
PEORIA, Ariz. — They worked together for hours, tinkering with timing and rhythm until achieving the desired result.
New Mariners hitting coach Dave Hansen was still a player with the Mariners back in 2004 and 2005, when teammate Raul Ibanez came to him for help. The pair spent off-hours honing their craft, then would take the field together, Hansen as a much-coveted pinch-hitter and Ibanez as an outfielder who’d just rejoined the Mariners after several years in Kansas City.
By the time their extra work away from the field was done, they’d achieved exactly what they wanted: Ibanez could play the guitar.
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“Really, he taught me how to play,” Ibanez said. “He taught me songs first, then he came back the next year and we’d play together. It was more about his teaching method.
“I actually recommended him — highly recommended him — as a hitting coach a year or two after he was done playing because he was such a great teacher. He had so much patience with all of us he was teaching how to play guitar when he was still a player.”
Ibanez and others would often go to Hansen for hitting advice back then as well, approaching him in the dugout for tips about swing timing and other things. Then, once back at the hotel, or on the team’s charter plane, the guitar would come out and the lessons began anew.
“He just had a really smart teaching method and was very patient,” Ibanez said. “And he’s the same way as a hitting coach. He keeps it very feel-based. It’s not a mechanical-based hitting philosophy.”
These days, the duo continues to put in long hours together away from the field — Hansen just starting with the club as a coach and Ibanez trying to extend his playing days a little longer.
Ibanez is 4 for 8 with a home run and a double already this spring and hopes to be a solid contributor from the right side of the plate and at multiple positions as he was last season with the New York Yankees. But even at age 40, he’s not beyond a little batting-cage tinkering, which is where old teammate, Hansen, 44, comes in.
Hansen agrees his hitting philosophy isn’t as mechanical-based as others can be. In fact, one might say his philosophy is more guitar-based.
“There are some similarities there,” Hansen said. “Especially hitting because music’s in-time. And we hit in-time. So, there’s something to be said for it. I think I’m at a point where I can explain it now. We all have an inner rhythm. And if you can tap into that — have each guy tap into his own body clock — it may sound kind of kooky, but it works.
“I don’t share the guitar with everybody,” he added. “I’m just saying that the rhythm part of it, thinking of it like a song and dance and that we’ve got to jump into it. The pitcher’s always moving, we’re hitting a moving ball with a moving bat. And so, you’ve got to be well-timed. And what gets us out of whack is not being able to be consistent with our own time.”
Hansen grew up in a musically inclined Southern California family and began playing guitar at age 11. By his senior year in high school, he was in a cover band called The Ladds, playing junior-high school dances and other local events.
In fact, the band was playing the second of a two-night gig at the annual St. Maria Goretti Parish Carnival in his hometown of Long Beach in 1986 when Hansen announced onstage that the Dodgers had drafted him with their 47th overall choice. He broke in with the Dodgers in 1990 and over the next 15 seasons compiled a .260 lifetime batting average and .729 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 1,793 at-bats over 1,230 games.
And his guitar never left his side.
“What it did for me mentally, in this game, I can’t describe,” Hansen said. “It’s such a great way to disconnect and regroup your mind. Because we’ve got to do this consistently for what, 182 days straight? It’s a good hobby to have outside the game. And I think we should do something as a hobby.”
His early lessons with Ibanez consisted of just making basic sounds with the instrument. Toward the end of the 2004 season, they started to play a couple of songs. By the following season, they’d be on the team plane jamming together.
Hansen got into coaching in the Arizona Diamondbacks system in 2007. Then, in 2011, he became the Dodgers’ hitting coach from July of that year through the end of last season.
When the Dodgers let him go, the Mariners jumped at the chance to get a younger coach they felt could relate to their players better than the previous, much older, hitting instructor Chris Chambliss. But it isn’t just the young players Hansen can relate to, as witnessed by his work with Ibanez.
“I’m in that weird situation because I played with some of these guys and now I’m back in the big leagues as a coach,” Hansen said. “I did it last year as well, but it also makes it a little easier because we’ve already got that relationship established. For me, it’s easier to say ‘Hey’ to a veteran guy because I know him.”
And Ibanez knows him as well. So when Hansen starts talking “rhythm” and “timing” in the cage, Ibanez plays right along.
“With most veteran guys — and I did it too — there’s always some tinkering involved. We have to try to keep up with the game,” Hansen said. “We never want to think ‘We’ve got it!’ And Raul’s the perfect example.
“His swing is his swing, he’s had that millions of times. But it’s how he uses it. So, we’ve been tinkering with the rhythm of the whole swing, how he’s delivering his barrel through the bat path. Not overhaul, just messing with some things.”
The duo often will work on what Ibanez termed “outside the box” drills involving hands, movement and timing.
In short, their guitar lessons all over again.
“It really doesn’t feel any different now that he’s my coach compared to when he was my teammate,” Ibanez said. “He’s always been the one teaching me things, and I’ve always been the guy listening. So, when you look at it, this is probably the way it should be.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners