Ibanez More Intense Than Most About Training
"The first thing people say is, 'Oh, you mean like Michael Jackson?'" Ibanez says, chuckling. "I'm not afraid of that stigma."
Ibanez isn't afraid of anything that will make him a better baseball player, which is one reason he is a coveted free agent six months shy of his 37th birthday.
The hyperbaric chamber, he says, oxygenates his red-blood cells, aiding him in recovery. But the chamber is just one aspect of his training, and not a very large aspect at that.
You name it, Ibanez is doing it-joint alignment, muscle activation, active-release techniques, even Brazilian jiujitsu. He speaks with conviction about trying to reach his "genetic threshold," or physical peak. He even keeps three hitting advisors-former major leaguers Edgar Martinez, Chili Davis and Kevin Seitzer-on speed dial.
Ibanez, an outfielder and first baseman who spent the past five seasons with the Mariners, certainly isn't the only player seeking new ways to improve his training. He is, however, more curious and intense than most.
To the average person, his techniques might sound like weird science. Ibanez responds, "If you Google all this stuff, it's real science." And with baseball now testing for performance-enhancing drugs, such avenues of training become that much more important.
"My entire life, I always thought that there's a better way," Ibanez says. "I never think I have all the answers. I always stay open-minded. I have this theory-you never know where the next bit of information is going to come from that will take you to a whole different level.
"You never know-a kid on your son's Little League team might say something to you and you'll have an epiphany. I always try to have my eyes and ears open. There's a lot more to being the best you can be than just strapping it up and going out there."
Ibanez, who lives in Miami, says he was first introduced to the hyperbaric chamber by one of his trainers, Pete Bommarito, a partner at Perfect Competition Athletic Development in Davie, Fla.
Bommarito had his prospective NFL players using the chamber for recovery. Ibanez noticed the results, then had a company send him one for a trial run during spring training.
After three days, Ibanez informed the company that he wanted to purchase the chamber, which cost him $18,800. He used it last season after long flights back to Seattle and in the mornings after he drove his children to school. He would stay inside for 60 to 90 minutes, practicing visualization techniques to pass the time.
"For me, the proof is in the pudding," Ibanez says. "It's not cheap. I'm not like a flashy, spendy guy. For me to make an investment like this, I have to be 100 percent convinced that it works. I've never walked past this thing and said, 'Man, that was stupid.' And I've done that with other things."
Ibanez is a late bloomer, a player who twice was designated for assignment by the Royals in 2001, the season in which he turned 29. His past three seasons with the Mariners were his most consistent. Playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, Ibanez did not bat lower than .289 or higher than .293. His on-base percentage ranged from .351 to .358, his slugging percentage from .479 to .516.
Bommarito, whose list of baseball clients also includes Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera, began working with Ibanez in '04. Ibanez had missed time with a hamstring injury that season, and feared that he soon might be reduced to a designated hitter. He interviewed Bommarito about his training techniques, asking pointed questions.
"He has an overall understanding of what it is we're doing, of how to train like this," Bommarito says. "That's very important to the process. Players aren't trained in exercise science, biomechanics, all the things we're trained in. If an athlete truly understands what he is going through, what I'm trying to accomplish, how we're reshaping his body, it makes the training more efficient."
During the offseason, Ibanez works with Bommarito three and sometimes four days a week, performing a series of vigorous exercises that help keep his body aligned, reducing the risk of injury.
"I call them the sucky-good exercises," Ibanez says. "They're good for you. But they completely suck."
Ibanez also is a regular at South Miami Sports Performance, where he makes weekly visits to a physical therapist and strength coach. He also finds time for two or three sessions of mixed martial arts per week at SMSP, and works with a stretch coach once a week at another facility. The martial arts training taught Ibanez how to better fall and roll in the outfield, and helps him with his flexibility.
For Ibanez, each trainer has a purpose, as does each workout. When he first visited Bommarito, he couldn't run with 100 percent effort due to his hamstring injury. Bommarito performed active-release therapy, a patented massage technique that treats problems with muscle tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves.
The next day, Ibanez ran at full speed, with no pain. The next season, he played in all 162 games.
Ibanez, who is not known for his speed, jokes that his running form still is not pretty. Hitting, not running, is his forte. But he is not above asking for guidance when he is in the middle of a batting slump.
Ibanez will call Martinez, his former teammate with the Mariners. He also will call Davis and Seitzer, whom he met earlier in his career. Neither was ever his teammate. Both became sounding boards and friends.
"They're all gracious enough to take my calls," Ibanez says. "I'll call 'em and say, 'Hey, did you watch that game?' A lot of times they'll say, 'No.' And I'll say, 'Good, I don't have to be embarrassed.'"
Seitzer, recently named the Royals' hitting coach, first connected with Ibanez in 2001. At the time, Seitzer was retired and operating a baseball school in Kansas City with former Royals teammate Mike MacFarlane. Ibanez, after twice getting demoted by the Royals, needed help.
As Seitzer recalls, Ibanez had the mindset of a power hitter. Seitzer suggested a complete overhaul, urging Ibanez to hit for a higher average, produce a higher OBP and cut down on his strikeouts, figuring that his power would come.
"Little did I know that he not only would buy into it, he sold out to the 'nth' degree," Seitzer says. "That is what set him on the path to who he is today."
Seitzer, in his new position with the Royals, no longer will be able to counsel Ibanez, who will be playing for a rival team. Ibanez, Seitzer jokes, should pay him back by signing a one-year deal with the Royals for $5 million. Seitzer knows he is dreaming; Ibanez is likely to command a three-year contract worth at least $10 million per season on the open market.
Not bad for a former 36th-round draft pick who became a major-league regular only after turning 30.
"Edgar (Martinez) is one of the guys I called when I turned 35," Ibanez says. "I said, 'Edgar, what is the deal with everyone talking about turning 35? I don't feel anything. I feel great.'
"In Edgar's super-wise way, he said, 'The guys who hit 35 and decline are the ones who don't work as hard as we do.' He said, 'To me, major-league prime is 34 to 38. That's when I put up my best years.'"
"I happen to be turning 37. I don't know if he looked at the media guide and said, 'I'll make this guy feel good.' But I thought, 'This guy rocks.'"
Ibanez, naturally, is trying to follow suit. Call him on his cell phone, and you hear the theme from "Rocky." He might be working out. He might be practicing martial arts. He might be laying in his hyperbaric chamber, visualizing a game-winning hit in September.
The music is his personal soundtrack. Ibanez never stops.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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