Our dog has a new favorite human. And from time to time, she sings to him. Head tilted back. Muzzle at a 45-degree angle. Best baying-at-the-moon pose. And, let 'er rip:
Ra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a. . .
u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u. . .
l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l . . .
Take a bow, Raul Ibanez.
Actually, the newest Phillie has been taking a lot of them lately. He is being accorded that wolf-pack sonata at almost every turn. He catches a routine fly ball: Ra-a-a-u-u-u-l-l-l. He coaxes a walk: Ra-a-a-u-u-u-l-l-l. He takes off his cap: Ra-a-a-a-u-u-u-l-l-l.
Two bleacher sects - Raul's Ghouls and Raul's Bouls - have been mustered and have adopted him and now show up in costume for home games.
Raul Javier Ibanez (ee-BON-yez) is Philadelphia's newest overnight sensation. He cannot, at least for now, do anything wrong.
Here, in the birthplace of the b-o-o-o-o-o-o-s, Raul Ibanez has won over the skeptics and the doubters in the most direct way possible - he has come out smoking. Laser beams into the gaps, home runs into the high seats . . . each at-bat a study in patience and selectivity, distilled in its purest form to this mantra: Just hit the ball hard.
An early-season, game-turning grand slam launched him into the hearts of Phillies fans, and then he sustained that start with a gaudy barrage that exceeded his career numbers.
Baseball can be a cruel mistress; she wields the ultimate, most inescapable weapon of all - the law of averages. For every incendiary hitting streak there is the counterbalancing despair of a dismal slump. So that inescapable law of averages shows that Ibanez, over 16 seasons, is a .286 hitter with a best-season home run peak of 33. So, no, despite his blistering start, he will not be mashing 80 homers nor hitting .400. What he will be is a welcome addition, a steady, sturdy professional, a solid performer, of whom there are never too many.
Moreover, he has fit in nicely. Modest and unassuming always wears well.
And his is a cautionary tale for all of us: Beware misconception. Beware prejudgments. Beware initial perception. Beware preconceived notions. Beware the rumor-spinners and the parrot chorus that accept, and repeat as gospel, only what they have heard, not what they have seen.
When the Fightin's reached all the way across the country to acquire Ibanez last December - for $30 million over three years - the parrot chorus broke into song: "Raul W-h-o-o-o-o-o-o-o?"
The theory was that the newest Fightin' was well past his productive prime, and never mind that his RBI production suggested otherwise.
Too old, they said. Thirty-seven last week. And too slow. Oh my yes, turtle slow. Runs like a Clydesdale pulling the beer wagon. Gold Glove? How about Concrete Glove?
But the player who now patrols left field does so with a workman's stolid, understated style. Most times, he gets to balls that he should, and sometimes to ones that he shouldn't. Whatever the outcome, the reaction is the same: Ra-a-a-a-u-u-u-u-l-l-l-l-...
On his birthday, this past Tuesday, in San Diego, as the Fightin's were sustaining a tidy winning streak, he clubbed two home runs and a double, scored three and drove in five, and at last began to receive the support he deserves to be a starter in next month's All Star Game.
This sudden adulation has caught him by surprise, and it shows. He bows his shaven head. He waves and smiles a shy and grateful smile. He seems genuinely humble. There is none of the rooster in him.
And as for the similarity between the Ra-a-a-u-u-u-l-l-l serenade and that other notorious sound, he said, smiling: "The benefit of having a name like this is you can't tell the difference if they're booing."
He'll learn. He'll learn.
Baseball is thick with superstition, and one of the hoariest commandments is that you never, ever awaken a teammate who is cruising along on autopilot, not thinking, just producing. So when asked about Ibanez and his torrid start, manager Charlie Manuel tried to shush the interrogators, saying: "He plays the game like it should be played. He's very good, and I don't need to talk about him. Leave him alone."
This sentiment was relayed to a certain black Lab, who promptly threw back her head and sang:
Ra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a. . .
u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u. . .
l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l. . .