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Braun Is A Premium Brew

Milwaukee's second-year outfielder has fast become one of the premier hitters in the major leagues.

August 17, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

The brewer voted for the Brewer.

She voted by Internet ballot every day using her three e-mail addresses. She filled out manual ballots on visits to Dodger Stadium. And, in hopes of packing a much bigger wallop, she e-mailed her 800 or so co-workers at the Anheuser-Busch plant in Van Nuys with a simple plea to vote for her son, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

When the All-Star votes were tallied last month and her son emerged as the leader among all National League outfielders with 3,835,890 votes, Diane Braun received a text message from the first Brewers outfielder to be elected by the fans as a starter:

We did it.

"I still have it," Diane said Friday evening at Dodger Stadium, nearly choking up at the memory more than a month later. "I will never erase that."

Ryan Braun hardly needed the extra support after following his NL rookie-of-the-year season with another stellar campaign. He is hitting .300 with 30 homers and 84 runs batted in after entering as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning Saturday night and going one for two in his debut as a major leaguer at Dodger Stadium. He had sat out the previous six games because of tightness in his lower back.

Diane and her husband, Joe, bought out two sections in the left-field pavilion to accommodate friends and family for Saturday's game.

Sections "307 and 309 are ours," Diane said.

The last time Braun played at Dodger Stadium, the lifelong Dodgers fan homered in his final at-bat for Granada Hills High in a 2002 City Section playoff game. Now he's leading the Brewers in their quest for their first postseason appearance since 1982.

"It really does seem like a dream sometimes," Braun said. "Everything happened so fast that I really haven't had an opportunity to reflect on what I've done or what I've accomplished."

Only 24, Braun has achieved plenty in less than two full major league seasons. He set a rookie record with a .634 slugging percentage and has become the only player besides Albert Pujols to hit at least 30 homers in each of his first two seasons.

Braun's ascent also includes a glove story. A mistake-prone third baseman who made 24 errors as a rookie, Braun has not committed one error this season in the outfield.

His phenomenal play prompted the Brewers in May to sign him to an eight-year, $45-million contract that was the longest in franchise history. Pretty remarkable for a player who was not drafted out of high school yet was so confident in his abilities that he told his mother he would one day participate in the home run derby.

"I just knew what I wanted to get, I knew how to get there and I never questioned my ability to do it," said Braun, who fulfilled his pledge last month at Yankee Stadium by hitting 14 derby homers and advancing to the second round.

Said Milwaukee hitting coach Jim Skaalen: "He's never really failed, so there's no reason for him to be anything other than what he is right now."

Skaalen marveled at Braun's consistency and his compact swing, which actually fools some observers into thinking he has a long swing because of its protracted follow-through.

"I've had people ask me, 'Is his swing long?' and I laugh," Skaalen said. "Because what you're seeing is the finish. . . . He fires so quickly to the ball. It's as good as anyone's I've seen."

Braun honed his stroke in the backyard batting cage his mother erected for him and younger brother Steven. The boys' father, Joe, threw batting practice left-handed, which the family believes contributed to Braun's .450 average against left-handers as a rookie.

Nevertheless, there was scant interest in Braun coming out of high school. His mother recalled one scout asking him why his organization should draft Braun.

"Because I'll make you look like a genius," Ryan responded. But there were no takers.

Even though Braun went on to star at shortstop for the University of Miami, some questioned the Brewers in 2005 when they selected him fifth overall in the draft, one spot ahead of highly touted Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Nobody doubts the wisdom of that move now.

"He's one of the top offensive players in baseball," Milwaukee Manager Ned Yost said. "If you get a chance to watch him on an everyday basis, you see how special his talent really is."

Braun is part of a young core of Brewers that also includes first baseman Prince Fielder, shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Corey Hart. None of the players is older than 26.

"The young group of guys on this team are all really, really good friends, which I think makes it fun for us to think about what the future could be," said Hardy, whose clubhouse locker at Dodger Stadium is adjacent to Braun's.

The future appeared to be now for Milwaukee about 11 months ago. The Brewers were tied for the NL Central lead as late as Sept. 18 before finishing two games behind the Chicago Cubs. Braun said the team learned from its late-season slide.

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