By JOHN PESETSKI Special to FOXSportsWisconsin.com
PHOENIX — Reporting to Milwaukee Brewers training camp Friday morning, All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun made it clear that he came to the team’s facility to play baseball — not to talk about any reported ties to performance-enhancing drugs that have followed him to Arizona for the second straight February.
Briefly acknowledging a recent report that had his name in the books of Biogenesis, a defunct Miami clinic that allegedly supplied PEDs to several MLB players, Braun said he was happy to talk about baseball and that the World Baseball Classic and Milwaukee’s 2013 season is his focus.
“I made a statement last week, I stand behind that statement, and I’m not going to address that issue any further,” the 2011 National League MVP said. “I appreciate everybody’s support. You know, in life, when you deal with challenges, you see who supports you, you see who has your back. The organization has been great. I am very grateful for that. It’s great to be back here for spring training and I’m looking forward to the World Baseball Classic.”
Though the seventh-year Brewer and five-time All-Star did acknowledge the potential of the Biogenesis investigation to be a distraction, he also seems prepared to deal with it and to focus on baseball — much as he did in 2012 after he arrived at spring training on the heels of having a suspension for a positive PED test overturned.
“In baseball, and in life, you deal with adversity,” Braun said. “When you deal with adversity, you see what type of character you have. I’ve always been a positive person, and the goal is always to be the same person. The goal for me is to be as good of a player as possible every year.”
Manager Ron Roenicke downplayed the potential for the Biogenesis case to distract the team or Braun, who hit .319 with 41 home runs and 112 RBI last season. Braun addressed the PED test last year on the first day of spring training and then avoided talking about it again while piling up numbers even more impressive than the ones that made him an MVP a year earlier.
“As much as he went through last spring, he’s probably used to it now,” Roenicke said. “And I don’t think there is anything there. I know how bad last year was for him. And I know what happened even after the decision when we went to different ballparks. And I think that thing that was impressive was the way he played last year. He had the same year. He was second in MVP (voting) and could’ve been MVP. I think it says a lot about his character. He can overcome some things mentally that other guys aren’t able to do. And our guys see that, too.”
Braun, 29, is simply focused on continuing to improve all aspects of his game and reaching the postseason again after missing out last year.
“The goal in camp is always to get better,” Braun said. “There is always room for improvement, and our goal is to get back to the postseason. My goal is to have my defense catch up to my offense.”
Roenicke, in his third season with the Brewers, respects his left fielder’s focus on the game.
“He’s proud of what he does, how he works, how he goes about his job with the team and with the fans,” Roenicke said. “It means a lot to him and other guys can see what goes on there. The guys with the make-up that can put things aside are a special breed.”
Suiting up for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic for the second time in his career, Braun, admits to taking a different approach this offseason.
“With the World Baseball Classic, you have to come to camp in baseball shape,” he said. “You can’t just be ready to play three innings. You have to be ready to play nine. It’s a wonderful honor to wear the USA jersey. I’ve been through it before. The goal is to win the tournament this year.”
Looking ahead to the 2013 season, Braun, the Brewers’ third-longest-tenured player, admits that Milwaukee is an underdog in the National League Central but cautioned against counting his team out.
“Of course we are an underdog,” Braun said, citing St. Louis and Cincinnati as division favorites. “For us, we are young, and people don’t have huge expectations. But we know what we are capable of. It’s exciting to see the young guys in camp get a chance to compete. On top that, there’s real ability here and that’s exciting for me.”