Hunt: Braun's road at attempted redemption begins
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Making his first real public appearance Sunday since the PED bust, Ryan Braun received a standing ovation as he made his way to the Hollywood Squares prop that was part of the entertainment portion of the Milwaukee Brewers’ On Deck event.
The heckler in the Wisconsin Center crowd could not have been given a better setup. No matter how Braun initially responded to the emcee, his first answer was going to be placed on a tee.
“You know he’s lying,” came the rejoinder.
Apparently, the 65-game suspension robbed Braun of none of his timing. He was prepared for the high and tight one.
“As a fan so graciously pointed out, I’ve gotten in trouble in the past for not being completely forthcoming,” he said.
Sunday was a big day for the Brewers. They signed Matt Garza, one of the splashiest offseason moves the club has made in a while. That’s a good get and another demonstration of goodwill to some of the most loyal paying customers in baseball. Just as a team cannot have too much pitching, it cannot go overboard with optimism at one of these things.
Owner Mark Attanasio marveled at the 10,000 people who showed up in the deep freeze. Excitement inside the big building was palpable.
But no matter what, Braun was going to be the 10,000-pound elephant in the joint.
For a few minutes before greeting a loyal/skeptical public that seemed more on his side than not, Braun spent a few minutes with the media. As usual, he was cordial, accommodating, betraying little behind his eyes.
This was the scripted Braun. The temptation was to peek behind the phalanx of TV cameras for cue cards.
Public perception, Braun said, mattered to him.
“I’ve always taken great pride in being a role model,” he said.
“I made a huge mistake and I paid a great price for that mistake,” he said. “I deeply regret it. I wish I could change it. I recognize I don’t have that opportunity. All I can do is … show that I’ve learned from my mistake, that I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned from it and hopefully I’m a better person because of it.”
Now that’s the $100 million question, isn’t it?
Does it really matter if Braun—who cheated the game, lied to fans and deceived teammates and management—becomes a better person? The only thing we’ve learned is no one knows what goes on behind Braun’s smiling eyes. Now it comes down to a personal choice. You’ve either turned your back on him or you’ve decided to let go of the past, forgive and give the guy another chance.
Braun went out of his way to regain trust by personally calling suite holders and season-ticket holders during the offseason. He said only one call became contentious.
“I’ve had a lot of interaction with fans,” he said. “Everybody’s been great, everyone’s been very supportive. “
But strip away the personal side of the scandal and it basically comes down to the cold, unemotional part of the still-unfolding drama:
Without the juice, can Braun continue to put up MVP-type numbers for a franchise so heavily invested in them?
“I think I’ll be better than I’ve ever been.” Braun said. “I’m very confident about that.”
No one has ever accused Braun of lacking confidence. With everything else he is going to encounter this season, he went and added that level of pressure on himself.
“So far, so good,” Attanasio said. “He’s mindful, and I’m always careful to remind him, that this is an ongoing process. He needs to take steps to have the support of the community he once enjoyed.”
While Attanasio and Braun both live in Los Angeles, the owner did not go out of his way to engage his new right fielder more than in a normal offseason. Attanasio attended Braun’s wedding and has monitored the situation because ticket sales depend to some extent on repairing all the damage Braun did to the franchise.
Some people are never going to be won over. For the undecided, the quickest path to redemption will come through big numbers and a winning record.
“He knows how much time and effort he put into building a relationship with the fans of this community that he wanted,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He showed that by the contract that he was willing to sign to stay with this club. He wants to get it back to that. I don’t think it’ll happen overnight. I’m hoping this is a step, and as we go on, that they accept him as they used to.”
It will be rough on the road for Braun in the beginning, but he has the right kind of personality to deal with it. Basically, he doesn’t care.
“As a competitor, in an odd way I really enjoy it,” said Braun. “I think it’s fun. I think the more hostile it is the more enjoyable it is. I enjoy that pressure. Look forward to it.”
Again, hitting the ball and catching the ball will shut them up at Wrigley and Busch. We’ll see what happens at Miller Park.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,” Braun said. “I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed life more. I don’t think I’ve been in a better place.”
Well, good for you, Braunie. Now get back out there and earn your contract. Everything else should take care of itself.
Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.