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Apologetic Braun far from done

After putting suspension behind him, Brewers star can begin to rebuild @RichardJustice

Ryan Braun can write whatever ending he chooses to write. That's the beauty of being 29 years old. He should be able to play at a high level for at least another three seasons, maybe more. He plays in a city that loves him, in front of fans who are looking for a reason to cheer for him. All in all, he's being dealt a pretty decent set of cards. What he does with those cards is up to him.

Braun can't make his mistakes go away, but he certainly can begin to change the way people think about him. He can play hard, play by the rules and put big numbers on the board. He can write a new chapter.

Remember Andy Pettitte? He, too, used performance-enhancing drugs, but when fans think of him, it's probably not one of the top 10 things in their memories. Like Braun, he allowed his judgement and his ambition to get all mixed up. He wasn't the first and won't be the last.

Let's be clear about what Braun has admitted to doing and why he's being suspended for the remainder of this season, plus the postseason if Milwaukee qualifies. This is no gray area. When a player uses performance-enhancing drugs, he must find someone to sell them to him and someone to help him maximize their benefits.

Players who make these decisions become convinced they can beat the system. Either they've got a substance they believe can't be detected or they think they've got a foolproof masking agent.

Regardless, they're putting their reputations -- and in some cases, their careers -- on the line. Baseball has a world-class testing program, a program that may be even better than that used by the International Olympic Committee.

When baseball announced in-season blood testing for human growth hormone last January, Commissioner Bud Selig told the sport's 30 owners: "This is a proud day for Major League Baseball."

His only goal in the pursuit of the Biogenesis customers is a clean sport. In the end, it's that simple. Players want a clean sport, too. When Braun escaped a suspension last year because of a technicality, players were furious. They believed that a positive test by one prominent player reflected badly on all players.

Players like Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman and hundreds of others want an even playing field. They don't want to compete against those who have an unfair advantage. They also don't want the pressure to use a substance that could send them to prison or kill them.

Those fans who say it doesn't matter need to get a clue. If star players like Braun have to cheat, then what's the message for bottom-of-the-roster guys and Minor Leaguers? What's the message to high school kids? Players are role models whether they want to be or not.

Selig has been criticized for going too hard after the players linked to Biogenesis. What's the alternative? To look the other way? To pretend it doesn't matter?

For Braun, the best news is that he's a free man. Imagine how that must feel today. He can hold his head high again down the road. No more deception. No more living with a dark secret. He no longer wakes up wondering if this is the day the walls close in on him.

He can now clear his head and prepare to move onto the next chapter of his career, possibly the best chapter. He has begun this process by saying and doing absolutely the right thing.

"I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed -- all of the baseball fans, especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates," he said in a statement. "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."

When he steps back into the batter's box at Miller Park next April, he may receive what may be the longest, loudest and warmest standing ovation of his career. Yes, he made a mistake. Most of us have.

That's the point these guys sometimes miss. Fans want to root for them. They want to believe in them. They want to forgive them. Braun can't do anything about the past, but he will have years to reconstruct his reputation.

This probably will not be the last of the Biogenesis suspensions, and with the suspensions come a flurry of headlines, a distraction from the pennant races and the things we're rather be focused on at this time of the year.

For his part, Selig believes he's doing the right thing for the sport. He's doing what the lion's share of players want him to do, but he's also doing what his heart tells him is the right thing. When all is said and done, that's all that matters.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun