PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Trout, who grew up in South New Jersey, was not the only Angels outfielder making a homecoming of sorts on Tuesday. Raul Ibanez was back at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since leaving the Phillies at the end of the 2011 season, and the veteran recalled some of his fondest memories with the Phils as he sat in the visiting dugout.
Ibanez, who played three seasons in Philadelphia, from 2009-11, said the ballpark and the city would "always hold a really special place in my heart." Ibanez had a breakout season in '09, earning his first All-Star selection and helping the Phillies reach the World Series.
"It was three of the greatest years of my career as far as teams go," Ibanez said. "It was a really special time. I'll never forget the crowd reactions to us winning. Just coming to the ballpark every day, no matter what you were going through individually, it was always so much fun to be a part of that team. It was just a really special group of players. A lot of fun."
The Phillies went to the postseason in each of Ibanez's three seasons with the club. Naturally, that 2009 run to the World Series and eventual loss to the Yankees stood out in his mind.
"We were going to the World Series, and it felt like it was never going to stop," Ibanez said. "And then of course coming to the abrupt stop at the end. It went from being the greatest feeling ever in professional sports to the worst feeling ever, sitting there and being so close to the World Series that you could touch it. ... I remember how hard that was to stomach for the next couple months."
Ibanez, 41, has since gone on to play for the Yankees, the Mariners and the Angels. He said he kept up with the Phillies, acknowledging it had been hard to watch former teammates Chase Utley and Ryan Howard struggle with injuries in recent years.
"I've always stayed pulling for those guys because they are special guys, great people, and you never want to see you friends go through rough times," Ibanez said. "I wish them the best."