Suspension over, Braun arrives at Brewers camp
PHOENIX (AP) Hands crossed behind his back, Ryan Braun stepped up in front of the cameras and reporters ready to take the hits.
A long-awaited day had finally arrived: the Brewers slugger is officially back with his team for the first time since being suspended for 65 games for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement as part of the Biogenesis doping scandal.
Once again, he’s sorry. And he’s ready to move on.
”I took responsibility for that mistake I made,” Braun said Thursday. ”For me, my focus again is on this year and moving forward and learning a new position and getting ready for the season.”
One that includes a move from left to right field, and questions about whether Braun is over the right thumb injury that also limited him in 2013. But it was that other topic that again dominated a respectful question-and-answer session on a sunny day outside the Brewers spring training complex.
And the 2011 NL MVP offered familiar answers.
”Like I said, I’ve addressed it multiple times. I appreciate your interest. I appreciate everybody’s interest,” Braun said to one of several questions about why he used a banned substance. ”I understand you have a job to do, but I’ve already addressed that multiple times at multiple press conferences.”
There was a statement in August. A gathering with reporters in Milwaukee during a Thanksgiving food drive. Another press conference at fan outreach event last month, his first major public appearance in Milwaukee since the suspension.
It’s easy to see why there’s still interest. After the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, Braun is perhaps the most well-known player suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
He remains relatively popular in Milwaukee despite the suspension, judging by fans still wearing his No. 8 jersey at the team’s winter outreach event. One such fan watched intently from about 50 feet away behind a steel fence at the Maryvale baseball complex, holding on to a yellow Braun jersey.
Nearly two years ago to the day, Braun offered a vociferous proclamation of innocence at spring training. At the time, a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test had been overturned by an arbitrator.
”We won,” he said then with conviction, ”because the truth is on my side.”
Turned out not to be the case.
”Certainly I wish that I hadn’t done the press conference. I wish that I had known then what I know now,” Braun said Thursday. ”If I had, certainly I wouldn’t have done it at all.”
The front office and manager Ron Roenicke appear to be more than satisfied with how he’s made amends with teammates.
”Yeah, he doesn’t need to address anything anymore. If he wants to, fine,” Roenicke said. ”He feels like he’s said enough. He’s said enough certainly for me.”
Now if he can just get back to that MVP form under a glare of suspicion that will almost certainly still follow him in the short term, especially on the road.
Braun hit .298 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and four steals in 61 games in 2013, well below his career averages. He is usually good for at least 30-plus homers, 110 RBIs and 20 steals, along with a .320 average.
”I feel good, but like I said it’s always a challenge getting use to facing pitching again and seeing curveballs and sliders and some spin on the ball,” Braun said about his thumb. ”There’s always an adjustment phase but I feel pretty good.”
Then there’s the new position. As part of the acclimation process, Braun brought up the possibility of being an ”all-time” defender in a minor-league game this spring, meaning he would be a fielder for both sides.
Roenicke said he first thought about shifting Braun in 2011.
”It won’t be that easy of a transition, even though he’s a very good left fielder,” Roenicke said. ”It’s different when that ball turns the other way.”
Braun also declined comment when asked about his relationship with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The former business partners are two of Wisconsin’s biggest stars, and Rodgers expressed disappointment after Braun’s suspension last summer.
To others in baseball, the return of Braun and accompanying drama might be viewed as a headache. Braun is certainly aware that he might get negative reactions away from Miller Park.
Roenicke, however, confidently predicted he would not be a distraction for the Brewers.
”I think everybody knows the kind of player he is,” he said. ”We like him for one, and we need him on this team, and he’s paid the penalty that Major League Baseball has put in place, and it’s over.”
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP