SEATTLE -- Raul Ibanez always comes back to Seattle.
The slugger began his longtime affiliation with the city when he was selected by the Mariners in the 36th round of the 1992 First-Year Player Draft. He continued it by making his big league debut with Seattle in 1996 and becoming a lineup mainstay through 2000. He departed for Kansas City but signed back with Seattle for another stint from 2004-08. And he played one more season at Safeco Field last year after stops with the Phillies and Yankees.
Ibanez, still going strong at 41 and with 300 career home runs, is moving on to the Angels this year, but he'll never really leave the Emerald City. He returned once again Thursday afternoon to receive the 49th Hutch Award for outstanding community service at the annual luncheon at the Mariners' ballpark.
The Hutch Award, a national honor presented by the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been given every year since 1965 in honor of Major League player and manager Fred Hutchinson, who died of cancer a year earlier at the age of 45, and its list of honorees reads like a Hall of Fame roster.
Winners have included Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, George Brett and Johnny Bench.
Now they include Ibanez, who has been a chairperson for the annual Mariners Care Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament; has supported the Page Ahead Children's Literacy Program, which works to make books available to at-risk children throughout the state of Washington; and serves as a spokesman for Refuse to Abuse, the Mariners' partnership with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. He has also been involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children's Hospital, Treehouse, Covenant House Pennsylvania and Project H.O.M.E.
Ibanez is a husband to his wife, Tery, and a father to five children: sons Raul Jr. and Luca and daughters Sophia, Victoria and Carolina.
All that work for the greater good has given Ibanez purpose far beyond baseball, he said, which makes the Hutch honor that much more special.
"It's the greatest award that I could receive, and I'm humbled, because to me, it's not what you do but how you do it," Ibanez said. "We're all role models and we've been given this pedestal by the good Lord to be able to give back, and to carry yourself a certain way is extremely important."
It was fitting for Ibanez to be feted in Seattle, where he spent so many years. Not only was he a rookie and youngster trying to learn the ins and outs of big league life as a Mariner. He came back later to impart those lessons on the many greenhorn players on the current roster.
On Thursday, after receiving the Hutch Award, a glass sculpture by renowned Seattle artist Dale Chihuly, Ibanez remarked that he learned a lot about performance on the field, off the field, and at home from veteran teammates and friends such as former Hutch Award winners Jamie Moyer and John Olerud, who was in attendance, plus Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr. and others.
"Those guys taught me at a very early age, just by their example, that you can strive to be a great player and also have a higher purpose and strive to be a great human being and give back to your community," Ibanez said.
"And also that it was OK to be a tremendous player, play hard on the field, spit all over yourself, dive, get dirty, and then go home and be the best father and husband that you can be."
Ibanez said he was moved by the presence of the Hutch Award Luncheon's guest speaker, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, and was honored to get the chance to hang out with Carew as the two toured the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and met with its staff and some of its patients.
"Dreams do come true," Ibanez said. "You get to meet your heroes in person, and you find out that they're extremely generous and kind-hearted, compassionate people and live for others and make a difference in other peoples' lives along the way."
As is often the case at an event that is equal parts somber, reflective and uplifting, Ibanez reached an emotional peak when he mentioned his family, pausing his speech while getting a bit choked up, having to alter his gaze from their table and admitting he was in fear of losing it completely.
"I can't look at you," he said. "I'll take you out for ice cream later or something."
More information on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Hutch Award can be found at www.fhcrc.org.