He wanted to win, and he wants to feel that burn three more times.
"It's incredible," Ibanez said, wiping the champagne from his eyes. "Being a part of this team, being with these guys is unbelievable. It's a special group of guys."
The Phillies signed Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract in December, ending Pat Burrell's nine-year tenure in Philadelphia. The move paid off. Ibanez hit .273 with a career-high 34 homers and 93 RBIs in 499 at-bats, despite missing almost a month with an injured groin. Fans elected him a starter for the National League All-Star team. Burrell, meanwhile, hit .223 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs in 408 at-bats for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"This was a really easy place to fit -- a very welcoming place," Ibanez said. "Everybody is an equal here, and that's a great thing. You have great players, but nobody acts like it. Nobody acts like a superstar. Everybody puts the team ahead of themselves, and that makes a great environment."
Ibanez quickly became a fan favorite with "Rauuuuuuuuuuuul!" cheers every time he comes to the plate, gets a hit or makes a catch in left field. But fans were guarded when Ibanez arrived. He had replaced Burrell, who had turned into a fan favorite. Ibanez also signed a multi-year contract at 36, with other younger corner outfielders such as Adam Dunn and Milton Bradley signing for less.
"If we had waited, we would have lost him to a deal that was much higher than what we paid," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I had strong indications that there were a lot of teams that were very interested in him."
The Cubs, who would swap Ibanez for Bradley in a heartbeat, and the New York Mets expressed interest in him.
"Anytime you get more than two teams interested in a player, it has a tendency to escalate," Amaro said. "But right from the very start when we first spoke with him, it was pretty clear that Raul Ibanez wanted to be a Philadelphia Phillie."
Amaro's predecessors recently praised the first-year GM for cutting loose Burrell and signing Ibanez.
"Even though Pat did a great job for us in 2008, I think it was time to make a change," said former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who serves as a senior adviser to Amaro. "I don't think Ruben could have picked up anybody -- not only from a production standpoint, but a teammate standpoint -- better than Ibanez."
"There were lots of reasons why people would have emotional ties to a guy like Pat Burrell," said Houston Astros general manager Ed Wade, who preceded Gillick in Philadelphia. "But to get Raul Ibanez, I thought it showed that the focus was on 2009 and not necessarily basking in the glow of 2008."
Ibanez has been asked a couple times recently about his individual accomplishments this season -- the All-Star appearance, the career high in homers -- but he has no interest in that. He played for the Seattle Mariners in 2000, when they made the American League Championship Series, but that was a long time ago.
"The individual stuff is kind of meaningless at this point," Ibanez said. "Moving forward, the postseason is what really matters. It's a whole new season. That's really where my focus is right now."