Brewers' crowd sees fit to forgive Braun
Ovation during outfielder's first at-bat since serving suspension says it all
MILWAUKEE -- In Wisconsin, the winters can be completely unforgiving. But the people apparently are more tolerant.
When Ryan Braun stepped to the plate for the first time in the 2014 regular season, the first time since his suspension last year, the vast majority of the Opening Day crowd of 45,691 fans at Miller Park not only applauded him, they gave him a standing ovation.
If these folks had not forgotten, they certainly had forgiven. Braun was one of the players suspended last year in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs investigation, receiving a 65-game suspension, second longest of any of the suspended players.
What set Braun apart was what he had done the year before in discussing a positive PED test that was eventually dismissed. In a news conference, Braun lied about his usage and suggested the collector had tampered with the urine sample in question.
You might have thought that Braun would have needed at least a few on-field heroics to regain his former standing with the Brewers' faithful. He had made a nice play in the top of the first, tracking down a drive to the warning track in right for the third out.
But here, this wasn't a case of "What have you done for me lately?" This was a case of support for Braun.
"It was special," Braun said of the ovation. "It was an emotional moment for me. It kind of allowed the adrenaline and the emotion of the moment to take over, and I had a pretty horrendous at-bat, swinging at pitches that I normally don't swing at.
"But it's something that I'm very thankful for and very appreciative of."
There were some theories Monday about why the patrons of the game at Miller Park were in such a forgiving mood.
For one thing, the game time temperature was 61 degrees. After a long, cold winter seemingly borrowed from Siberia, this was immensely warmer than any recent day. In fact, it was the warmest day in Milwaukee since last October. Under the closed roof at Miller Park, fans could watch the game in short sleeves and ponder the baseball weather to come. Thus, they were in a good humor.
Closer to the core issues, if you are a Brewers fan, you obviously want the team to perform as well as possible. Braun is the team's best player. So you support him, figuring he has paid his debt to baseball society.
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig was present for the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Braves, and he was asked what he thought of the reaction to Braun. Selig had supported the thorough investigation of the Biogenesis matter as well as the vigorous prosecution of those who broke the rules.
"Look, fans are fans, and that's the way it's supposed to be," Selig said. "It's their hometown player. It was a wonderful reaction and I wish everybody well."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was gratified by the fans' response to Braun.
"Outstanding," Roenicke said of the standing ovation. "And I'm really glad it was that way. I saw in Spring Training how the people who came down to watch us applauded for him, and that's what I expected. These people here are great. I've said all along, we're a very forgiving people and we should be."
Braun was cheered loudly again in the fourth, when his hit-and-run single sent Jean Segura to third. More cheers ensued when Braun stole second. Braun subsequently scored on a two-run double by Aramis Ramirez. These were the only runs of the afternoon.
Braun went 1-for-4 Monday. His final at-bat was a line drive to third. Braun appeared to beat out an infield hit in the sixth, but the safe call was overturned on the first replay challenge at Miller Park.
"I had a pretty good idea that I was out," Braun said, smiling.
The Brewers' organization is with him, from the top.
"From the moment that he admitted that he broke the rules, that's when his path to redemption started," Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio said Monday. "And so we had this conundrum, because we obviously didn't feel very good about the admission, but yet the admission was a positive step, right?
"At that point, we had to decide, well, how do you deal with someone who's actually come forward and admitted that they did wrong and said they wanted to change the way they do things?
"So we [Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin] have both spoken to Ryan privately, but the main point is that since that point, he's taken several good steps.
"He's been in Milwaukee several times for charity things. He was out here for our fan event. On his own volition, he called a number of sponsors and seat-holders.
"And he's spoken to his teammates. He moved to right field immediately when asked by Ron [Roenicke], without asking any questions. And he's paid his debt. He served his 65-game suspension.
"But I think he's under a microscope still. And I think he will rise to the challenge, but we want to see him rise to the challenge, on all of the above. Be an important part of the team, be an important part of the community, be an important part of Major League Baseball, setting a standard that if you break the rule, you admit it and then you don't break the rule again."