MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun had more than the usual reasons to give thanks as he helped the Brewers kick off the holiday season on Wednesday.Braun, visiting Milwaukee for what has become annual participation in the Brewers' Thanksgiving food drive, wore a shirt that read, "California Strong" and spoke of the
MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun had more than the usual reasons to give thanks as he helped the Brewers kick off the holiday season on Wednesday.
Braun, visiting Milwaukee for what has become annual participation in the Brewers' Thanksgiving food drive, wore a shirt that read, "California Strong" and spoke of the wildfires that swept through his home state in recent weeks, including the Woolsey fire that forced his family to evacuate their Malibu residence. Two doors down, a house burned. Braun felt lucky that his home suffered only external damage from the flames and smoke damage inside.
"We thought we had lost it at one point," Braun said. "We just feel incredibly grateful and fortunate that we will eventually have a house to go back to. There are things that happen that always put life in perspective.
"I'm thankful for the firemen, policemen, all the first responders. But at the same time, I just feel awful for so many friends and family members who lost their houses. A lot of friends from our kids' school lost their houses. The thought of having to completely start over is a really difficult thing, especially as you approach the holidays."
Some friends impacted by the fire had just come to stay with the Brauns when the group, aware that winds were blowing the Woolsey fire toward Malibu, made the decision to evacuate. Ryan and his wife Larisa packed only a change of clothes or two and their wedding photos, since the rest of the car was full of necessities for the kids. His memorabilia, including items like the baseball from his first career hit and his 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award, stayed behind. Only later did Braun return to retrieve the baseball and some other irreplaceable mementos.
Their early decision proved wise, because Malibu eventually was subject to a mandatory evacuation, and the Pacific Coast Highway became jammed with traffic. For many residents, it was the only way to safety because of fires in the surrounding canyons.
"The first time I got back to some of those areas and was able to drive through and see the devastation firsthand -- it really does look like a scene out of a movie," Braun said. "It's apocalyptic."
Where once there were lush, green lawns, Braun said, there was blackness.
"It's heartbreaking," Braun said.
Since evacuating, Braun, Larisa and their two young children have bounced around to his mother's, a friends' home and now a hotel. Meanwhile, Braun and some teammates have been working on ways to help.
Mike Moustakas, who is now a free agent, and Christian Yelich also live in Malibu and were impacted by the fires. So was Mike Attanasio, one of the sons of Brewers owner Mark Attanasio.
In the midst of the emergency, the Brewers' concern was "significant," general manager David Stearns said.
"Look, you see it on TV and it looks incredibly scary," Stearns said. "And then when you know people in the path, it becomes very real. We're very fortunate that everyone is OK."
Braun & Co. have been working with a local YMCA to determine the best ways to help. They are selling shirts and other "California Strong" merchandise, and Braun said other plans include an online auction and a charity softball game with MLB players. Funds will go to victims of the wildfires and others impacted by the Nov. 7 shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Yelich grew up.
Those players, plus Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on his bye week, gathered with Yelich last week when he was named the NL MVP Award winner. He wore a Los Angeles Fire Department cap for the live broadcast on MLB Network.
"A lot of my buddies here were out in their backyards, trying to keep their houses standing," Yelich said. "It's been a tough week out here, not only with the fires but with the mass shooting just down the road from where I grew up. There's been a lot of destruction out here. It's nice to see some people smiling for once."
Details about their fundraising effort and how fans can help are forthcoming via Yelich's social media platforms, according to Braun.
"I'm always thankful for life every day, for being present, for friends, for family," Braun said. "Obviously, this year, for firefighters and policemen and first responders, and to be in this position where we can help to give back. I've always said the coolest thing about being in this position is to be able to give back and help people better their lives. We want to do our part to help people get back on their feet."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.