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Angels' Ibanez, 41, still going strong

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Mar 4, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels outfielder Raul Ibanez runs the bases after hitting a …

By Steve Ginsburg

(Reuters) - At this late stage in Raul Ibanez's career, an All-Star season culminating in a World Series championship may be the only thing that could lure the 19-year major league veteran into retirement.

Then again, the affable Los Angeles Angels outfielder is having so much fun he just might stick around another season. Or three.

"I'm happy where I am with my life and my career," Ibanez told reporters recently in the Angels clubhouse. "Getting an opportunity to play Major League Baseball at 41 years of age on a great team is something that you don't see all the time.

"To have the opportunity to do that and play at the highest level at this stage of my life is a blessing and I'll keep fighting forward."

He's playing for his fourth team in the last four years but the left-hand swinging Ibanez still has his power stroke, having clubbed 51 homers since turning 40, including 29 with Seattle last year.

Ibanez was an All-Star with Philadelphia in 2009, the year the Phillies lost the World Series in six games to the New York Yankees. Though it was his best shot yet of getting the coveted ring, Ibanez chooses to be philosophical about the chance.

"I think about what a blessing it was to get that opportunity, to be there," he said. "But I don't think whether you get that opportunity or whether those things never happen for you are the things that define you.

"Your quest for excellence, your integrity, the way you go about your business and your passion, and your drive and your will and your determination - those are the things that define you as a man and a player.

"At the end of the day, if it (a championship) happens this year or if it doesn't, if I never step on another major league field, I'll know that I've done everything in my power, gotten every drop of talent out of myself."

Ibanez, who turns 42 in June, is hitting just .149 in 67 at-bats this season but he has 15 runs batted in, second most on the Angels and one more than 22-year-old, two-time American League MVP runner-up Mike Trout.

His 10 RBI in the seventh inning or later is tied for tops in the majors heading into Thursday's games, a statistic not lost on Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

"He's knocked in a lot of runs for us already," said Scioscia. "He hasn't had as many hits fall in as I know he wants. He's probably hit the ball a little better than his average.

"But he knows what he's doing in the batter's box and has plenty of life in his swing. He'll contribute this year, no doubt."

The Angels' clubhouse was filled with twenty-something ballplayers getting dressed for a recent game amid blaring country music that can stress the heartiest of eardrums.

No one was more at home than Raul Ibanez.

"The best part about playing is the camaraderie," he said. "It's a very unique locker-room setting compared to other professional sports. It becomes like your second family during the season.

"These guys keep me young and hopefully I'm giving them something back too.

"I'm enjoying the game more now, even the bad times, because you recognize they're not always going to be there. I love this great game of baseball."

(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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