After rough start, 2012 ended as one of Braun's greatest seasons
This is without a doubt the biggest challenge I've ever faced in my life.
–Ryan Braun, Feb. 23, 2012
Eight months ago, alone on a sun splashed baseball field in Phoenix, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun addressed the media following the overturning of his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.
It was the start of the most scrutinized season of his career; as season in which everything from injury, to his production, to even how many All-Star votes he received, was broken down and examined under the harshest of lights.
Despite his exoneration by the process afforded him by baseball, the news that sent shockwaves across the game wouldn't be forgotten that easily.
"I think off the field, I knew he was always going to carry himself well but he got heckled a lot," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Every ball park we were in. It used to just be the Cubs and St. Louis. But it turned into pretty much everywhere we went. That's hard to deal with. You can take it a couple places but when you have to deal with that at every park you go, for one, it takes a lot of fun out of the job. I can imagine. I know when I get heckled and if I got heckled in every ballpark I wouldn't enjoy the job."
Roenicke saw that it affected the 28-year-old, but also that Braun also used it as fuel.
"I knew from the beginning it was going to be challenging," Braun said. "Certainly, it was. But for the most part I feel like I've handled everything well. I feel like I was able to keep my composure, compete every day, ultimately contribute to a lot of our success as a team. That's something I'm proud of."
The Brewers rallied from 12 games under .500 in August to post a second straight winning season, the first time the team has done that since 2007-08. As the club rallied to contend for a wildcard berth, Braun became the second player this century (Alfonso Soriano, 2006) – and 11th in the history of the game – to hit 40 home runs and steal 30 bases.
"He's the same ol' Ryan Braun," Rickie Weeks said. "It's one of those things where I think the clubhouse helps a lot when you're going through certain things. You have kind of a retreat at all times. But for the most part, Ryan is just doing his same old thing. He's a great player, and it's hard to look past that."
Braun finished in the top three in NL in each of the Triple Crown categories, including leading the league in home runs with 41. He led the league in total bases (356), runs (108) and OPS (.987) and was tied for the lead in extra base hits with 80. He finished second in RBI (112), hits and slugging percentage while finishing third in average (.319) and on base percentage (.391).
"I think he's the best player in the league and his character is unmatched," Corey Hart said. "I see it, obviously, daily. You guys see it a little bit but I deal with the in and outs of things and for him to do what he did this year was incredible. Obviously he had a better year this year than he ever has. His drive and his will is as good as ... ever. For him to do that was pretty remarkable."
Braun insists he doesn't set statistical goals; that the numbers come as long as he's on the field for the majority of the season. But, he did feel he learned a bit about himself as a player in 2012.
"I think everything you go through as a player can make you stronger if you choose to view it that way," he said. "I said at the beginning of this whole ordeal that I truly viewed it as an opportunity and not an obstacle. That's the way I approached it all year. You deal with stuff like that it's only going to make you stronger as a person and as a baseball player."
He smiled, and allowed himself a chuckle.
"It was a different experience for me," he said. "It wasn't easy. It was challenging at times for sure, but for the most part I dealt with it well and feel like it definitely made me stronger."
As he headed home for the offseason, Braun said he wasn't going to watch the playoffs or the World Series. He says he rarely does, choosing to get away from the game that consumes the better part of eight months. But, in a month, he may get a call about winning his second straight MVP award.
"Honestly, I really don't think of things that are out of my control," Braun said. "I really don't focus on those things. For the most part I feel like over the years guys who have gotten to the postseason ultimately end up winning those awards and deservedly so. Beyond that, I don't think a postseason award would validate my success or make me feel any differently about my season."
By all accounts, 2012 was perhaps the most impressive season any Brewers player has ever produced, pulling together factors such as his tumultuous offseason, the loss of Prince Fielder, and managing groin, wrist and Achilles injuries.
"He's consistent and meets challenges that what Ryan's all about," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "He went out there this year and proved to people he's one of the best players in the game. We're very fortunate to have him. He just keeps getting better. Somewhere along the line good players do have some off years or slumps or whatever but it's amazing how he performs. And at all parts of the game. He's got power, he steals bases, is one of the best base runners on the team. There's not much else to say other than we're very thankful to have a player of that caliber.
"Those kind of players, I tell Mark Attanasio, they only come along every 10, 15 years. The Brewers had Robin Yount in the '80s. There really wasn't anybody in the '90s that lasted that long and performed that well. We're fortunate to have him. Just sit back and enjoy it and watch him play."
wait a minute.... if he cheated last year and got away with it... did he cheat *this year*? I mean, Lance Armstrong cheated 7 straight years and didn't get caught until way after retirement... could Braun still be cheating?
But he did cheat...right?...he got off on a technicality. I'm convinced that if you have enough money you can pay to have drugs that will hide the drugs you are using....always one step ahead of the testers.
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