KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Raul Ibanez has been on some incredibly talented teams during his career.
Ibanez, 42, was part of that excellent Phillies run from 2009 through 2011 that included a World Series trip and two National League Championship Series appearances. In 2012, Ibanez was part of a Yankees team that was one step away from the World Series before falling to Detroit.
But as gifted as those teams were, Ibanez has a message for Royals fans: This Royals team is every bit as gifted as any of those.
"No question — this team is so talented," said Ibanez, who joined the Royals less than two weeks ago. "I mean, this is as talented a group of players as I’ve been around. Ever. As far as athleticism and ability and just talent. …
"This is as good of talent as it gets. Yeah, I know, it requires more than talent to do what we’re going to do, but I see a lot of really good intangibles here. 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."
And while Ibanez has a reputation as a clubhouse confidant to anyone seeking counsel, he has been careful so far not to overstep his boundaries.
"You don’t want to come in here and disrupt anything," he said. "You just want to add to the atmosphere just by being who you are and doing whatever you can."
Talent-wise, this team is built to last.
On Thursday, Ibanez stepped back into the Royals’ home clubhouse for the first time since he left to sign with Seattle after the 2003 season.
"Everything looks … different," he said, his eyes scanning the room. "And much better. It looked nice before. Now it just looks amazing. I mean, it’s beautiful."
What also has changed is the overall health of the organization. Ibanez was part of that wacky 2003 squad — Tony Pena’s "We Believe" bunch — that captured the city’s attention for much of that summer before fading in September.
That 2003 team did finish over .500 at 83-79, but it certainly wasn’t built to last. The Royals went on to lose over 100 games in each of the next three years.
The feeling around the organization now, Ibanez said, is that the Royals will be competitive for quite some time.
"I did not get the sense that it would last back (in 2003)," Ibanez said. "I don’t really want to compare the two teams because we’re talking 11 years apart, but I would say that talent-wise, this team is built to last. And you’ve got some, in my opinion, of the best young players in the game right here."
And Ibanez also is acutely aware of how much this city wants to taste the playoffs again.
"Kansas City deserves a winner and an exciting team to watch, and this team definitely is exciting and a winner," he said. "It would definitely be meaningful to be part of something that hasn’t been done in 29 years here (making the playoffs).
"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 was here. If it wasn’t for Kansas City, I wouldn’t be standing here playing today. My son, my firstborn 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."