Morry Gash/Associated Press
Morry Gash/Associated Press
Ryan Braun understands why many people are skeptical of him, given the way his name has twice been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
He refuses to let it bother him.
On a sun-splashed field in Arizona, the Brewers slugger said that getting back to spring training has helped him deal with the swirling controversy and that playing for the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic could help to convince some fans to give him a clean slate.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of things I’ve dealt with over the last year and a half,” he said. “But I’m just trying to focus on the things I can control.”
After his MVP season in 2011, Braun tested positive for steroids during the playoffs. But he fought the case and eventually had his 50-game suspension overturned by an arbiter who discovered chain-of-custody issues in the handling of Braun’s test sample.
Then this last offseason, Braun’s name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic that allegedly provided substances to several players.
After his name was connected to the clinic, Braun issued a statement in which he said he used the clinic’s operator, Anthony Bosch, as a consultant in appealing his previous positive test.
Braun so far has refused to address his use of Bosch or the clinic in detail, but he did say that all of the allegations swirling around him have not become a distraction.
“You know, I think the longer you deal with something, the easier it becomes to deal with, if that makes sense,” he said. “Regardless of what the circumstances are, I’ve kind of lived this for the last year and a half, so I’m able to focus when I get on the baseball field, whether it’s personal issues or family issues or a situation like this. I just come to play.”
He’s certainly done that.
Last season, Braun led the league in homers with 41, was second in RBIs with 112 and finished third in batting with a .319 average, and nearly won his second consecutive MVP. He finished second to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in the voting.
Braun appears to be locked in this spring, too.
After going 2 for 8 with a homer in four games for the Brewers, he left camp to catch up with the U.S. team at the WBC. In the first of two exhibition games Tuesday, he went 3 for 4 and scored a pair of runs in a 4-4 tie with the Chicago White Sox.
The Americans will open Pool D play Friday night against Mexico in Phoenix.
On Tuesday, any angst felt by fans over Braun’s connection to steroid use seemed to have washed away in the Arizona desert. Dozens of fans lined up along the fence line with balls, hats and jerseys that they hoped he would autograph – and Braun dutifully signed many of them.
“There’s no more baseball in the Olympics, so this is the closest we get to an Olympics-style event. It’s only once every four years,” he said of the WBC. “For everybody that’s on our team, we take a tremendous amount of pride in being here, and the guys I know playing for Mexico and the Dominican (Republic) and Venezuela, they all feel the same way.”
While sensitive to the way he’s perceived by fans, Braun said he doesn’t spend much time thinking about how sponsors and potential business opportunities might view his past.
Braun also has said he’s supportive of the drug testing system that Major League Baseball has in place.
He welcomed an announcement by the league and its players union that players will be subject to in-season, unannounced testing for human growth hormone.
“I’ve always been supportive of the system,” Braun said earlier in camp. “I’ve always been supportive of additional drug testing or whatever testing they have that’s available.”
In the meantime, he intends to keep his focus on the field.
Easier to do now that games have started.
“I try not to think big picture too much. I focus on things I can control,” he said. “The challenge in this game is consistency and longevity, and hopefully I’m able to be at least as productive over the next eight to 10 years.”