HALF A season into Ryan Braun's big league career, the laid-back 23-year-old third baseman already has an NL Player of the Month award (for July). As for his Rookie of the Year credentials, try a .334 batting average, 25 home runs, 66 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 82 games through Sunday. The scuffling Brewers may have slipped to a game and a half out of first place, but forgive manager Ned Yost for believing that with brains and Braun, Milwaukee could be alive in October.
On his call-up from Triple A
We were at home in Nashville [on May 24] and leaving on a road trip the next day. After the game the manager, Frank Kremblas, called me into his office and handed me a flight itinerary. I assumed it was for our flight the next morning. He said, "You better look at that more closely." It was my flight to San Diego to join the Brewers! It was overwhelming. I was shocked at first. Then I thanked him for everything he had done to help me and told him my goal was to never be back down.
On his first major league game
I grew up near L.A., and because we were playing in San Diego, everyone could drive down. I probably had 100 people at that first series. My parents, my brother, my grandpa, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friends from L.A. I was just trying to stay calm. [He had an RBI double in his first game, a home run in his second.]
On getting recognized
In Milwaukee, if I'm in the supermarket or out to eat, people are paying attention. You have to be conscious of how you act. The other day the team had an autograph session at a park near the stadium. People were waiting in my line since early morning, and when we tried to walk away, they mobbed me for autographs. I had three or four security guards around me and when my aunt tried to give me a hug, one of the guards tried to push her away. I was like, Whoa, what is going on?
On rookie hazing
On my first bus ride I had to sing two Boyz II Men songs, On Bended Knee and Water Runs Dry. I sang over the CB radio at the front of the bus and the veterans were all over me, saying that it was brutal. I doubt I'll be on American Idol, but I think I did O.K.
On his mother Diane's job
She's a brewer at Budweiser. She told me how they make beer. We don't go into specifics, but I think she gets a free 24-pack every week. [Braun's father, Joe, is an insurance claims adjuster.]
On brother Steve, a senior second baseman, at Maryland
We're a year and a half apart, and were extremely competitive. We had a basketball court and I don't think we finished a game of one-on-one without getting into a fight. One time the fight started outside and ended up inside. I had to dive into my bedroom to get away from him-then he threw a five-pound weight at me and put a hole in the door.
On big league pitching
Adjusting is pitch-to-pitch. Any tendency, the pitchers pick up and try to take advantage of. They try to see if you'll chase pitches. In four of my first five games I faced Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. Rude awakening.
On Alex Rodriguez
I met him on my recruiting trip to Miami. He lives near the school and works out at our baseball field and uses the weight room there. One time I said, "What do you do when you're struggling or in a slump?" He said, "Don't ever use the word slump. You're never struggling. You're always one day away from having success and being back to where you want to be."
On moving from shortstop to third base in college
I made the transition about the same time A-Rod did it, and I got to pick his brain. He told me if I worked hard I could turn myself into a very good third baseman. I took as many grounders as possible. I want to practice the way I play, and the harder I work, the better I'll be in the game. I strive for greatness.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL FRAKES
DAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (BRAUN ACTION)