Gregorian Chants

Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

Friday Five: Homecoming For Raul Ibanez, Greg Holland’s All-Star adventure

07/11/2014 2:00 AM

07/11/2014 8:51 AM

*One And Done: So Salvador Perez’s game-winning three-run homer in the ninth inning on Wednesday in Tampa was a big deal and all.

But in baseball there’s a fine line between actually being hot, proven over time, and the vague notion of momentum, which usually represents a guess and maybe doesn’t really exist.

Asked before the debacle against Detroit on Thursday if there was any such thing as momentum in the game, for instance, manager Ned Yost said of course Perez’s home run "carries over" …

Until the first pitch of the next game.

All something like that home run did, Yost added, was "make your flight home real enjoyable."

But that was long forgotten after the embarrassing performance Thursday, which for the Royals’ sake presumably will have no more impact on tonight’s game than Wednesday had on Thursday.

Either way, every game is just one game of 162, a point closer Greg Holland made well Thursday afternoon.

He wasn’t thinking in terms of how many games the Royals needed to win in this series to gain on the Tigers entering the All-Star break.

Because any thoughts beyond the immediate warp both perspective and focus.

"You can’t think that way," he said. "It’s kind of too much weight to carry."

And in this case, some useful weight to toss overboard and start fresh today.

*Learning Curve: As a first-time All-Star last season, Holland was nervous. He anticipates the same in his encore Tuesday in Minneapolis.

"You’re never going to get used to an All-Star game, whether you play in 20, I don’t think," he said.

Even so, he’s not likely to lapse into the same gaffe he did last year in New York.

"I’m not used to going in in the seventh inning, so when they called me I told myself ‘Don’t screw this thing up,’ " Holland said.

So maybe he was a bit too intense as he came out of the bullpen, put his head down and ran to the mound.

Suddenly …

"I’m noticing no one else is out there," he said.

For a second, he wondered if he’d gone on the field when the National League was on its way out.

But when he got to the mound, he said, "I realized I was staring (singer) Marc Anthony in the face, and he was about to sing, ‘God Bless America.’ "

So Holland slinked to the dugout and took the mound from there.

*Homecoming For Ibanez: Raul Ibanez returned Thursday to the home clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium for the first time since 2003, and he was struck by the upgrade to the room.

"It looked nice before," said Ibanez, who joined the Royals during their nine-game road swing after being released by the Angels. "Now it just looks amazing."

To hear Ibanez tell it, and he was telling it before the Royals’ meltdown against Detroit, the same could be said about the upgrade in personnel between then and now.

"This is as talented a group of players as I’ve been around. Ever. As far as athleticism and ability and just talent," said Ibanez, who between stints with the Royals played in the postseason four times with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.

He added: "I don’t want to compare the two because we’re talking 11 years apart, but I would say that talent-wise this team is built to last."

Now, Ibanez in 2011 was voted the second-nicest player in baseball (Jim Thome was first) in a Sports Illustrated player poll, so maybe he’s inclined towards optimism.

But he wasn’t saying the Royals are better than those playoff teams (which included the Phillies playing in the World Series in 2009).

"It requires more than talent, right, to do what we’re going to do, but I see a lot of really good intangibles here," he said. "I see a really united team. They have a lot of fun together, and all of those things are essential when you’re creating a winner.

"I sense a strong winning environment and a winning attitude here and guys really enjoy being around each other. All of those things are essential."

*Paying It Forward: Time will tell if those intangibles bring tangible results, and Ibanez is struggling with the tangibles amid a zero-for-23 streak at the plate.

But in major measure, Ibanez, 42, was signed to supplement intangibles like chemistry with his temperament and veteran presence.

And to speak with him is to see how easily that might translate.

There is a certain art to sorting out how to go about that, though, since the last thing he wants to do is meddle or disrupt by overstepping as the new old guy.

"I think you just be who you are," he said. "Just be genuine with your intentions and be true to yourself and everything else will take care of itself."

During the nine days from the time he was released by the Angels and signed by the Royals, Ibanez considered what he was looking for if he were to try to keep playing and anyone called after he had .157 for Los Angeles this season.

Returning to Kansas City easily was "the most intriguing" of several options, he said, and mostly for personal reasons.

"It’s definitely meaningful to be part of something that hasn’t been done in 29 years here, and the possibility of something like that happening," he said. "It’s always more meaningful to do something as a whole than it is (as) an individual. It’s always more meaningful to be tied to moments, especially in a town that was such a significant part of my life.

"My first opportunity to play regularly (in 2001) was here. … I wouldn’t be standing here playing today, if it wasn’t for that opportunity. My son, my first-born son, was born right here in Kansas City.

"So to be part of something that can transcend anything else that you do, individually, that’s something you can be tied to forever. And connected to these players forever and to this town forever.

"So how can you not get excited about that, especially at this stage of my career?"

As part of a relatively young team, Ibanez also figures it’s an opportunity to "pay it forward" by making an impact on "some young guy’s life and something he can carry on and pass along to somebody else."

"The game was built on (the) pay-it-forward concept," he said, citing the examples in his life of the influences of older players such as Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer. "If I didn’t have that example, where would I be? I don’t know the answer to that. I would like to think I would have tried to figure it out, but just seeing that it was possible makes a significant difference."

*Staying The Course: Speaking of the possibilities at his age, Ibanez didn’t hide his pride in last week becoming the oldest Royal ever to hit a home run, topping, among others, George Brett.

"It’s no secret, right, I grew up like the biggest George Brett fan ever. So any time that I can be associated at all with No. 5 it’s a really cool thing," said Ibanez, adding that he recently had spoken with Brett and still can’t believe they are friends. "I still think back to being a kid, what I would have done to just shake George Brett’s hand."

The way Ibanez has been hitting, of course, it seems he might benefit from a more extensive consult with Brett.

Since going three for eight in his first two games with the club, Ibanez had been zero for 19 entering the game.

"I didn’t know that," he said, playfully walking away and adding, "I’ll see you later; I’ve got to go to the cage."

More seriously, Ibanez said he is just trying to stay attentive to the moment at hand and keep working diligently rather than let himself be consumed with the funk.

"To think that way just wouldn’t be productive," said Ibanez, who has a remarkable workout routine and hit 29 home runs last season.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow on Twitter.com/vgregorian.

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