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Braun returns home

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Eric Sondheimer
July 13, 2010
— To understand how All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun—San Fernando Valley native, Lakers fan, Malibu resident—became so beloved in Wisconsin, start at Sept. 28, 2008.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the eighth inning at Miller Park, with the Brewers trying to secure a National League wild-card berth and make the playoffs for the first time since 1982.


That’s when Braun hit a two-run home run.


“I’ve never been in an atmosphere like that in my entire life,” said Joe Braun, Ryan’s father. “That moment was so hard to explain. You see people literally crying … tears of joy.”


Braun’s popularity continues to soar. For three consecutive years, despite the Brewers being in the smallest media market in the major leagues, Braun, 26, has led NL outfielders in fan balloting for the All-Star game.


This year, he received 2,972,525 votes, third-most overall behind St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols and Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley. He passed Hall of Fame member Robin Yount as the only player in club history to be selected to three consecutive All-Star games.


Braun’s jerseys and T-shirts rank among the three most popular purchased by Brewers fans.


“First of all, he’s a great player,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. “He’s committed to the city. He signed a seven-year contract. There’s every reason for the fans to embrace him.”


The $45-million contract Braun signed in 2008 that runs through 2015 means he’s not going to leave town any time soon. He has become an active participant in two Wisconsin restaurants, Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill in Milwaukee and the Ryan Braun Tavern and Grill in Lake Geneva. He’s also co-owner of a Southern California-based clothing line, Remetee.


“He shows up at the restaurant and mingles,” Attanasio said. “He goes in the back and mixes with the kitchen staff. He’s very accountable to the fans.”


Most important to Brewers fans, he has delivered on the field. He was the NL rookie of the year in 2007 when he hit 34 home runs. He hit 37 home runs in 2008, and last season had 32 home runs when he also led the NL with 203 hits.


This season, despite suffering the worst slump of his professional career—a one-for-21 span last week—he is batting .292 with 13 home runs and 54 runs batted in.


“I really appreciate it,” Braun said of the fan support. “I think it’s not just for me. It’s the whole team. For awhile, the team wasn’t very good. The Brewers had really been struggling.”


Throughout his playing days, when he was an All-City infielder at Granada Hills (Calif.) High and hit a home run at Dodger Stadium in his final high school at-bat, to his college days at Miami, where he was an All-American, Braun has attracted a legion of fans.


“I voted for him twice,” his high school coach, Steve Thompson, said. “I’m sure my two sons voted for him.”


Steve Haywood, a sports radio talk-show host at 540ESPN in Milwaukee, said, “He’s endeared himself to the fans of Milwaukee big time. We know we got something special with him.”


Joe Braun, who still lives in the Valley but travels to Milwaukee to watch at least 10 games a season, said the fan appreciation reminds him of the days when he took his son to Dodger Stadium during the 1990s and watched how autograph seekers sought out Eric Karros and Mike Piazza.


“To see that look on a kid’s face, it takes you back,” he said. “It’s a little different in Milwaukee. They really get behind their players. They love Ryan. It couldn’t have been a better fit.”


With the All-Star game being played at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night, Braun gets to return home to Southern California, making it a special occasion.


“I always say that this is one of the few times throughout the year you really have an opportunity to reflect on where you’re at, what you’re doing, what you’re accomplishing,” he said. “It’s special for me to come back here and share the experience with some friends and family.”


His father will be there, along with his mother, Diane, and they’ll be reminiscing about their son’s rapid rise to prominence.


“It’s almost a fairy tale,” his father said.



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