PHOENIX — He's hip-hop. He's got game. He's got restaurants and a clothing line, too. And, oh, how he has swagger.
He is Ryan Braun: business entrepreneur by day, left fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers by night.
Braun, born in Los Angeles and schooled at the University of Miami (Fla.), is a mixture of SoCal and South Beach cool, with a New York flair for the bravado and a business mind that belongs on Wall Street.
"He got definite swag," Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, 25, says. "I love watching him play."
"He's cooler than cool," teammate LaTroy Hawkins, 37, says.
So cool that Braun, 26, epitomizes a new breed of young players: brash, full of confidence and unafraid to celebrate conquests. The aim for Braun, an All-Star in each of his first two full seasons: Tear up the league with his bat, and conquer the business world with his brains.
Braun, the 2007 National League rookie of the year who teammate Jim Edmonds says is "as good a hitter as Albert (Pujols)," has a restaurant in Milwaukee — Ryan Braun's Waterfront Grill, which opened on opening day — and another scheduled to open in June in Lake Geneva, Wis. He is an investor in a T-shirt line, Remetee, and its website features celebs as varied as American Idol sensation Adam Lambert, rapper Rick Ross and myriad athletic figures sporting the brand.
Braun endorses a protein drink and an airline and says he hopes to soon launch his own energy drink.
"I just feel like being known as a baseball player is one-dimensional," Braun says. "I want my business portfolio to catch up with my baseball portfolio. I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy the hustle. And I enjoy seeing how much I can accomplish."
It would be easy to relax at his oceanfront Malibu, Calif., pad, during the winter, and play table tennis with neighbor Reggie Miller, the former NBA star. As a bachelor, he's aware of Hollywood's abundant nightlife. Yet, he spends three or four days a week during the offseason at Remetee's Compton offices. He did an internship for a financial services company associated with the sports agency representing him in Century City. And he vows to complete the last 1½ semesters to fulfill his business management degree at Miami (Fla.).
Perhaps Braun's ambitions are summed up by his favorite T-shirt: "The U invented swagger."
"Look, if you don't back it up, it's arrogance," Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, 26, says. "If you back it up, it's confidence. He backs it up."
Again. And again. Braun leads the Brewers with a .324 average and .928 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), to go with his seven home runs, 10 stolen bases and 30 RBI. "You can't pitch him one way the whole game," Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw says, "because he makes adjustments so quick. That's what makes a great hitter. He's one of the toughest outs in the game."
Braun expects nothing less.
"I'm kind of known for my confidence," Braun says matter-of-factly. "If you don't believe in yourself, I don't see any reason that anyone else would believe in you. If not for confidence, I wouldn't be here today.
"My goal at a young age was never to make it to the big leagues but to excel at this level. If you don't strive for greatness in everything you do, you cheat yourself.
"I think I've been a good player. But I really believe I have the opportunity to be a great player."
According to mom Diane, Braun told major league scouts he would make them look smart if they drafted him out of high school. They didn't, so he went to Miami on a three-quarters academic and one-quarter baseball scholarship. He became the fifth pick overall three years later, signed an eight-year, $45 million deal in 2008 and wonders why anyone's surprised by what he's doing now.
"He's always been confident," says his father, Joe, a former insurance claims worker who now assists his son in his financial world. "We still have a videotape when he was in fifth grade. He stood up and said he wanted to be a big-league ballplayer. And if you saw the look on his face, it was serious. He wasn't joking."
Braun checks on his restaurant businesses during the day from his downtown Milwaukee condo, is usually the first player to arrive each afternoon at Miller Park and keeps the kitchen open for his teammates late.
"Most athletes have a restaurant that ends up being a sports bar," Braun says. "I wanted a contemporary place. A little L.A. A little Miami. A little New York.
"I wanted this to be more of a lifestyle restaurant, one representative of my personality."
He takes pride in the restaurant reviews and seeks suggestions. When teammate Doug Davis' wife said the white napkins should be switched to black to avoid lint, it was done the next day.
"What (NBA star) LeBron (James) has done in Cleveland, Ryan is starting to do in Milwaukee," says Nez Balelo, his agent. "Ryan appeals to all crowds, all audiences."Rubbing some the wrong way
Sometimes, Braun's confidence has created the wrong kind of publicity.
Braun was in on Fielder's choreographed home run celebration in September against the San Francisco Giants. Fielder rounded third and with his teammates waiting, jumped on home plate. His teammates fell down like bowling pins.
"I loved it," Kemp says. "I hope they bring out some more stuff this year. I want to see it."
The trouble is that the baseball establishment hated it. Giants reliever Bob Howry, now with the Chicago Cubs, said then that it was "not acceptable. It's not only a lack of respect for the other team but the game. It won't be forgotten."
This spring, Fielder was hit in the back by the first pitch he saw from a Giant, a fastball from Barry Zito. Braun says their other celebratory ideas are on hold.
"People were offended," Braun says. "It was never our intent to disrespect anyone. But a lot of baseball people are old-school in their mentality.
"I respect that, but I think the game needs to have guys show their emotion and allow their personalities to shine. That's why we lose so many good athletes. They turn to basketball and football because it looks like they're enjoying themselves more."
Brewers catcher Gregg Zaun, 39, has a different take after watching Braun and some of the younger players.
"I've always been apprehensive to show too much fun, to show too much emotion," Zaun says. "But now that I watch Ryan and some of these young guys, I'm thinking, 'How many great moments did I miss because I was afraid to show my emotions, afraid of having fun?'
"I'm not sure these young guys don't have it right."Learning restraint
Braun, who says he's always been opinionated, also is learning when to speak up and when to temper his remarks.
"Trust me, do you know how many times I'm asked a question," Braun says, "and would love to give the real answer and tell you exactly how I feel? But I know it's not in my best interest.
"There are certain situations in this game where I'm forced to be politically correct."
Braun tried honesty a year ago when he was asked about the Brewers' pitching staff. He answered, saying their pitching didn't match up with the Cubs.
It incited a furor in Milwaukee. Braun apologized to general manager Doug Melvin.
But greater familiarity with Braun seems to breed respect.
"I didn't really get to know Braun until this spring," second-year manager Ken Macha says. "I sat down with all of the veterans to get to know everyone's personalities. With most, it took about 15 minutes. With Ryan, it lasted an hour, 15 minutes.
"I'm not sure I've ever been around a player with that kind of talent. And, except for Dave Parker, I'm not sure I've ever been around anyone who has more confidence, either."
Braun would have loved watching his 467-foot blast at Chase Field in Arizona two weeks ago. It was the second to hit the center-field scoreboard. He put his head down, ran the bases and, as Macha recounts, asked questions later.
"Where did it land?" Braun yelled when he got to the dugout.
"It hit the scoreboard," Macha said.
Braun: "If it didn't hit that board, you know what? It would have hit the hotel."
The Brewers' team hotel was 6½ miles away.
"That's Ryan," Melvin says. "Never satisfied."