Ryan Braun shakes off fans' jeers, returns to MVP form

MILWAUKEE (AP) — After a failed drug test called his character into question during a tumultuous offseason, Ryan Braun is the one doing most of the bashing these days — looking every bit like the reigning NL MVP during a recent hot streak.

At home, he is cheered wildly during every at-bat by big crowds filled with No. 8 jerseys and T-shirts. He is opening a second restaurant in the Milwaukee area later this year, a joint venture with his pal Aaron Rodgers — the latest step in what is becoming a full-on, co-MVP Wisconsin sports bromance.

Watching a Milwaukee Brewers game at Miller Park, there would be almost no way to tell that Braun spent the offseason defending himself against leaked details of a positive test for an elevated testosterone level. An arbitrator overturned a 50-game suspension after Braun and his representatives questioned the methods used to collect his urine sample.

That hasn't bought Braun much slack on the road, where some opposing fans have made it clear that they don't believe his innocence and aren't going to let him forget about it.

"That's a true professional," Brewers centerfielder Nyjer Morgan said. "Words don't explain what he's gone through, just with the offseason and this year when we go on the road and how he's handling it all. It just shows he's well-mannered, well-spoken and he's all about business. You can see that he's definitely got a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. So he's doing a wonderful job with that."

Speaking to reporters before the Brewers' home opener last month, Braun acknowledged he was out to prove something.

"Of course," Braun said April 6th. "It's not so much about proving anybody wrong as it much as it is proving the people who all believed in me and supported me right. So I'm definitely excited. Very motivated."

Braun might still feel that way, but he's less inclined to talk about it now. Asked this week whether he felt like he was putting everything behind him, Braun said only, "That's irrelevant."

"I don't think there's really much talk about it now," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "And I think that's a credit to him, how he has handled it. There's been obviously a few cities where he's run into a few boos or jeers, but he hasn't let it affect him."

Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said Braun's production is the main indication that he is handling the scrutiny.

"He's second in the National League in home runs, right? He's got like a .980 OPS," Attanasio said this past week. "I think he's handled it pretty well. And the same way we say the bar has been raised here, the bar has been raised so high for Ryan Braun that second in the league in home runs, people are still saying, 'Well, jeez, you're not quite back yet.' He's doing just fine."

Braun rebounded from a slow start that included an 0-for-16 skid in April. More recently, he has been playing through a nagging Achilles tendon injury.

After homering in the ninth inning of a loss on Wednesday, Braun was batting .313 with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs.

Statistically, his home and away splits aren't significantly different.

"I've admired Ryan Braun from the moment I met him, his first day he had that press conference," Brewers infielder Travis Ishikawa said. "I didn't know the whole situation, but to be able to handle all the questions, everything that's gone on all of spring training. We haven't been to a place on the road yet where he hasn't been booed. This guy wasn't even convicted of anything, he was found innocent. But because of what happened he has to deal with it everywhere he goes, and he carries himself so professionally."

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged at the beginning of the season that dealing with opposing fans could be a challenge for Braun.
"Some are a little harsher than others," Roenicke said recently. "Whenever we go to Chicago he gets booed. It's because he's a really good player. I think all the great players, they get booed. I think he's used to that. If it happens everywhere it's probably a little different. As you guys know, he's very strong mentally. He's got a lot of confidence. I think sometimes it drives him to do better, to try harder. Sometimes that's really good and sometimes you press a little too much."

Morgan, a polarizing figure who attracts his fair share of criticism from opposing fans, acknowledged that players can't completely tune it out.

"You can feed off of it or shake it off, one of the two," Morgan said. "However you get it going. That's just how it is, the nature of the beast. You know, everything is handled just fine. We're doing it right out there. We're not letting the fans get to us, and especially he's not letting it get to him. Because I've heard some nasty things out there. Sometimes those things, you hear that. It's not like you don't hear it."

While Braun seems to be back, the Brewers are struggling to regain the form that won them an NL Central title and a spot in the NL championship series last season.

Prince Fielder is gone, and much of the remaining lineup is struggling. Milwaukee's pitching hasn't been as good as it was last season. And the Brewers have lost a pair of everyday players, first baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez, to knee injuries that are expected to keep them out for the rest of the season.

"Trust me, we'll be all right," Braun said. "I mean, you can only say 'it's early' for so long. We don't view it like it's early any more. We just view it like we haven't played consistently yet. But it's there. It's all there. We'll be all right."

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