May 10, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez (28) (center) celebrates with teammates in the dugout after Ibanez hit a 3 run home run against the Oakland Athletics during the 3rd inning at Safeco FIeld. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The featured U’s in the title of this post have a meaning because there are 11 of them. No, that is not the number of errors credited to Ibañez while playing in the field, he only has two of those (although there have been a number of boneheaded plays that hurt the team but weren’t ‘error’ worthy). Eleven is the number of home runs Ibañez has hit thus far in the 2013 regular season.

He is now tied with Michael Morse for the team lead in home runs while having played in seven fewer games and had 37 less ABs. He has 30 RBIs, good for second behind Morales’ 35.

He has done so far this year what he had done last year with the Yankees: hit clutch, sub-350 foot home runs to left field, driving in runs and helping the Mariners win a few baseball games.

But there is a difference between 2012 Raul and 2013 Rauuuuuuuuuuul. The Yankees needed momentary sparks of offensive brilliance. What the Mariners need at this juncture in the season is guidance, leadership, and someone acting as an example of professionalism and composure on and off the field.

Raul Ibañez has done tremendously in that role all season.

Many fans, critics, analysts, and blowhards were concerned and confused by the Mariners signing of Ibañez. First, he is now 41 years old. In baseball years that’s your mid seventies (not to be confused with dog years, in which he would be 287, wow). Secondly, he hit only .240 for the Yankees last year, what exactly could such a veteran provide to a young, struggling, out of sync team?

He has provided that leadership, that professionalism, to remind the younger players that one game is just that, ONE GAME. There are 161 others to win or lose. If you get one question wrong on a 162 question test, you can still get 99.4%.

So where would the Mariners be without Raul in this lineup and in the club house?

Statistically that question can be answered as simply as: the Mariners would have 11 less home runs, 30 less RBIs, 33 less strikeouts, and maybe 1-2 less wins.

But emotional, intangibly, the Mariners would be lost without Raul on the team and in the clubhouse and in the lineup. The Mariners would have significantly less U’s flying across the new video board in center field. The M’s would have fewer dinosaur jokes to throw around. They would have less confidence in themselves and in the teammates surrounding them.

Ibañez certainly isn’t the end all be all of this 2013 Mariners team, but he is one of the few players so far this year for the M’s who has exceeded expectations. That leadership has been paramount, but so has his bat. Did you see that 13 pitch at-bat that led to the go-ahead and eventual game-winning 2 run homer on June 3rd?

I think I speak for all Mariners fans when I say that Ibañez has and is a fan favorite. When he finally does retire, I surely hope it’s in a Mariners uniform.

But he is not retiring yet. There is plenty of baseball left for the 2013 Mariners.

And who knows, maybe someday Raul can find his way back to the Mariners again after retirement. Assistant hitting coach anyone? Or maybe resident team-motivator?

Either way, Raul Ibañez is a baseball asset the Mariners cannot afford to lose this season.