TODAY'S PAPER
51° Good Afternoon
51° Good Afternoon
SportsBaseball

Ryan Braun is a hit -- but not with fans

After successfully appealing a positive test before the

After successfully appealing a positive test before the 2012 season, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban on July 22 that will keep him out for the remainder of the 2013 season. Credit: AP

PHOENIX - The ballpark was quiet, and so the man's derision was easily heard. "M-V-P-E-D!" he chanted. "M-V-P-E-D!"

Ryan Braun was stepping into the batter's box and into the little world he has created, that of a disgraced user of performance-enhancing drugs.

It will be a while before people forget Braun's confession and 65-game suspension last season. If ever.

It also will be a while before people forget he was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2011. If ever.

Or forget his first at-bat of the Cactus League for the Brewers, a home run against Oakland at the A's park. A week later, Braun again homered against Oakland at the Brewers' field.

"Not surprising, I guess," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's one of those guys. A special athlete."

And at the moment a very unpopular one, even after reaching base safely in eight of his first nine plate appearances this spring training.

He is hitting the cover off the ball, going into Saturday's action with a .667 batting average, a .750 on-base percentage and a 1.444 slugging percentage.

"I focus on the things I can control," Braun said when asked about his baseball and the disdain from even the crowd at the Brewers' park.

"I've dealt with it in the past," he said about booing.

But that was on the road, at Wrigley Field or in St. Louis. And that was before last July 23, when Braun was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season as part of Major League Baseball's Biogenesis investigation.

Great athletes are able to compartmentalize. As Braun insisted, to "focus on the things" he can control. If there is turmoil in their lives, they continue to play the game. Or in Braun's case, after being away for seven months until his first swing Feb. 27, return successfully to the game.

"They have some new things to yell at me," Braun said about the chants and boos. "It's the same thing when ballplayers come to our park [in Milwaukee]. I've never heard people cheer for [former Cardinals star] Albert Pujols or Joey [Votto of the Reds]."

Braun had problems before the suspension, missing 26 games with a nerve ailment in his right hand.

A year ago, Braun also homered in his first at-bat of the spring. "But this year certainly is a little different than it's been before," he said. "I've not had this much time off."

Or this sort of response from the fans. "I try not to get caught up in the emotional aspect of everything," Braun said.

He was NL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has been a five-time All-Star. Now at age 30, he is facing a unique challenge: regaining the respect he had before his acknowledged connection to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.

That's the same lab accused of supplying PEDs to Alex Rodriguez, who has been suspended for the 2014 season.

When asked again about what he thinks of the fans, Braun said: "I think if I get caught trying to focus on the bigger picture, if I get overly introspective, I get myself in trouble. So I'm just trying to prepare myself for the season."

Braun said the only "nerve-wracking" situation was learning to play rightfield -- his new position -- after previously being in left. Braun was an infielder in college at Miami.

"I have to remember to watch for pickoff attempts," Braun said, "things like that. It took me a year and a half to where I was an above-average defender in left."

After his 2011 MVP season, Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone but successfully appealed the suspension on the grounds of "chain of custody," that the urine sample had been mishandled. But last July, Braun admitted that he violated baseball's joint drug agreement when he was linked to Biogenesis.

"I realize I have made some mistakes," he said in a statement at the time. "I am willing to accept the consequences . . . I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love."

The wait is over. Braun is back. You can tell from the long balls. And the boos.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

New York Sports