- Kory Kozak, ESPN
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Ryan Braun walks with a swagger.
And the old-school baseball people don't like it.
"I'm definitely confident," Braun said.
Braun walks, runs and plays like he owns the place, like he's supposed to be an All-Star, like he's supposed to hit big home runs in big games, like he's supposed to do great things in the major leagues.
What's wrong with that?
What's wrong with him admiring an absolute bomb of a home run he just launched?
What's wrong with him hitting game-winning home run after game-winning home run to help his team get into the playoffs?
What's wrong with having fun playing baseball and actually showing that he's having fun?
What's wrong with that?
Nothing, according to the over four million fans who voted for Braun to play in the All-Star Game this year (he received almost four million votes last year, too). The fans like what he does and how he does it. He's fun to watch and he hits bombs. It's a pretty good combination.
Braun knows he walks that fine line between being confident and cocky.
"I definitely straddle that line, I do. I recognize that," the Brewers left fielder said. "My intent's never to disrespect anybody, never to show anybody up."
But he still loves to appreciate his long drives.
"I wouldn't have anything to admire if I wasn't having some success."
Welcome to The Show
When Braun was first called up to the big leagues, he wasn't exactly the timid little kid at the pool dipping his toe in the water to see if he could handle it. Braun was the brash kid who jumped right in. He was all about making a big splash and soaking everyone else in the process.
You're not supposed to swagger into the major leagues and hit 34 home runs in your first 113 games, but Braun did.
Rookie of the Year.
He doesn't know any different. He has always been good. He was an All-American in high school, and he was an All-American in college (he went to the University of Miami because the "girls were the deal-closer"). Why wouldn't he be good in the majors?
"I went out and I expected to have success from day one. I wouldn't settle for anything less," Braun said.
When you have the kind of talent he has, why settle?
He has a rare gift: a sweet swing from the right side of the plate. Smooth. According to Braun, "it's natural." Watching him take batting practice is like watching Tiger Woods hitting on the range. Nice and easy, but powerful.
When my swing's going well, it is pretty effortless. To me, less is more. The less effort that I put in, the easier everything seems to happen.
”-- Ryan Braun
"When my swing's going well, it is pretty effortless," Braun said. "To me, less is more. The less effort that I put in, the easier everything seems to happen."
In a game filled with supersized, beer-league-softball-player-looking power hitters who swing at the ball like it stole from them, Braun is refreshingly normal-sized. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. He can just flat-out hit. And it's that swing that supports Braun's biggest weapon: his confidence.
"My mindset is far more important to me than anything else," he said. "I always try to have an edge over the pitcher, and I really believe that I'm going to get a hit every at-bat."
A series of deep breaths help him focus. His big eyes make you think he can see anything around him. How are you going to sneak anything past this guy? Once he makes contact, the deep breaths start again, and then a tug at his jersey as he runs the bases.
Breathe. Big eyes. Sweet swing. Breathe. Tug on jersey. Every time. Routine. A successful routine. Even when it isn't working for him and he's mired in a nasty slump, he still has confidence.
"When I'm struggling, I watch a highlight tape," Braun said. "I'll watch myself hitting home runs and remember it's still all there. I still have that ability. I still have that same swing."
"It definitely makes me remember how good I can be at times," Braun said.
Confidence level: high
Braun's sweet swing has produced 93 home runs in just 372 games.
"Ryan Braun drills one into left, and he loves it," boasts Brewers television play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson after an enormous home run off the Astros' Brandon Backe.
That same swing has driven in 282 runs in less than two and a half seasons.
"That kid can hit," said Brewers color commentator Bill Schroeder after a Braun home run.
That same swing gives him the swagger.
"He'll tell you he expected to do that," noted Anderson after Braun went deep and liked what he saw. "Is that cocky? No."
Feeling the love
But with success comes some unwanted attention from opposing hurlers. Braun has been hit by pitches nine times this season, good enough for fifth-most in the National League.
"I look at those things as a compliment," Braun said with a chuckle in his voice. He gets hit with 95 mph fastballs, and in some ways, he likes it. That is, until the compliment almost takes his head off. "The only time I have an issue with anything is if the pitch gets too high," he said.
Ryan Dempster gave him something to take issue with. In May at Miller Park, Dempster threw a pitch high that appeared to graze Braun's helmet, enraging him. Dempster heard about it as Braun was awarded first base.
And as Braun took his lead off first.
And after the inning ended.
"There's a lot of emotion involved," Braun said, uncomfortably downplaying the situation the best he could.
Two innings later, Dempster heard about it again. This time, Braun spoke with his bat well, initially. He used that same swing as his weapon, absolutely annihilating a pitch from Dempster, putting it deep into the left-field seats.
But Braun wasn't done. He let Dempster know about it all the way around the bases.
"I'll tell ya, Braun had some issues with some rib muscles earlier in the season," barked Cubs TV commentator Bob Brenly. "He may have some issues with his rib muscles as the season progresses if he acts like that on every home run he hits."
In Braun's world, that's just more complimentary talk: sweet nothings coming from the rival Cubs.
"It's not gonna affect the way that I play the game," Braun said, laughing. "Whenever you get hit or there is a pitch that's up and in, you're pretty emotional. When you come back and put a good swing on the ball, it's that much more enjoyable when you hit a home run."
Make no mistake about it: Braun wants to win. And he wants the Brewers to win.
"I signed up to be in Milwaukee another six or seven years. My intent in doing that is just to win," Braun said.
While the Brewers were in the midst of losing three of four games to the Cubs from July 2-5, including an 8-2 loss in the series finale, Braun was frustrated and lashed out.
"When you're constantly behind in games, it's not easy. It's not fun," Braun said. "We're at the point right now where it would be important for us to go out there and acquire somebody."
According to Braun, he thought he was just being honest with the media, and they blew it out of proportion. It was looking like Braun, the arrogant young star, was calling out the Brewers' pitching staff and challenging general manager Doug Melvin to get the team more pitchers. Everyone needs more pitching, but calling out your teammates through the media is never well-received in a clubhouse. Braun had to smooth that out with his teammates.
His comments aimed at Melvin were off target. The GM went out and acquired CC Sabathia last summer to help propel the Brewers to the playoffs.
"I'm responsible for everything I say," Braun said. "I took full responsibility for that."
Though the Brewers are one game under the .500 mark (55-56) this season, Braun has responded to the criticism with his bat, hitting .319 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs.
When I'm struggling, I watch a highlight tape. I'll watch myself hitting home runs and remember it's still all there. I still have that ability. I still have that same swing.
Braun is emotional. He lives and plays with a great deal of emotion. Some of it is youth, but most of it is just how he plays the game. He's from a generation that grew up watching Ken Griffey Jr. play. That generation loved how Griffey admired his home runs and how he wore his baseball cap backward during BP. Watch tape of Junior hitting a home run back in 1993, then watch Braun, and you'll understand. It's not "old-school," but it's not necessarily cocky, either.
"I understand how, at times, I can rub people the wrong way, or people can misinterpret my actions," Braun admitted. "I'm not really playing the game for anybody else."
Braun has a great life. He's 25 years old. He's a millionaire. He's a two-time All-Star. He met the president ("He was really cool").
And he did a commercial for Remington with Marisa Miller, the Victoria's Secret/Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue model. In the commercial, Miller recruits Braun to play softball on her team of scantily clad model friends.
Miller: "Hey, you look a lot like baseball All-Star Ryan Braun."
Braun: "Yeah. I get that a lot."
Life is good.
"Tough life," Braun said.
Maybe he deserves to be a little cocky. Can you blame him?
"It's just who I am," Braun said. "And I'm going to continue to do me and to be me."
Kory Kozak is a producer for ESPN. You can contact him at Kory.Kozak@ESPN.com.
2dKevin Van Valkenburg