Ryan Braun: 'I made a mistake'
PHOENIX -- Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, trying to shake the stigma of a 65-game PED suspension that ended his 2013 season and severely tarnished his reputation, arrived at spring training Thursday with continued expressions of remorse and a desire to leave the entire episode in the past.
"I made a mistake," Braun told about 20 media members at Maryvale Baseball Park. "I deserved to be suspended. I took full responsibility for my actions. And as I've said many, many times, all I can do is look forward and continue to move forward. I wish I had the ability to go back to change things and do things differently. But unfortunately I don't have that opportunity."
Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, is back in uniform for the first time since Major League Baseball suspended him on July 22 as part of an investigation into the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic outside Miami. It was the second-longest punishment that MLB handed out in the scandal, behind only Alex Rodriguez's season-long suspension for 2014.
In August, Braun released a statement admitting that he used a "cream and a lozenge" in an attempt to rehabilitate from an injury he incurred during the 2011 season. He subsequently apologized twice during the offseason -- at a Thanksgiving food drive at Miller Park in November and again at the Brewers' annual winter fan event in late January.
But Braun has provided no further details on his relationship with Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch and has maintained throughout his ordeal that his transgressions were confined strictly to 2011. During a news conference that lasted nearly 11 minutes, Braun declined to explain why he felt a need to use performance enhancers and repeatedly relied on his previous statements as a rationale for not addressing the issue in greater depth.
"I've answered all these questions at multiple press conferences," Braun said. "I appreciate the interest. I completely understand and respect the fact that [reporters] have a job to do. But for me it's counterproductive to continue to look back. All I can do is look forward, move forward and continue to head in the right direction."
Braun's repeated and sometimes indignant protests when accused of steroid use have put him in a category with Lance Armstrong, Rodriguez and other serial PED deniers, and set him up as a target for rough treatment when the Brewers go on the road. But he said he's unfazed by the possibility of negative fan reaction and learned something from his experience in 2012, when he played under a steroid cloud and hit .319 with a league-leading 41 homers and 108 runs scored to finish second to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in MVP balloting.
"I think I'm pretty strong mentally and emotionally," Braun said. "I'm able to deal with adversity and challenges. As a competitor, I enjoy the challenge of going into an opposing team's ballpark and dealing with that hostile environment. I try to use that as fuel and motivation. It was something that helped me get through a challenging time and helped motivate me [in 2012]."
During the offseason, Braun tried to rehabilitate his image and make amends by calling season-ticket holders in Milwaukee and personally apologizing. He wrote a letter to commissioner Bud Selig and talked to Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, general manager Doug Melvin and numerous teammates. Braun also reached out to Dino Laurenzi Jr., the urine sample collector whom he publicly maligned after winning a grievance to overturn a 50-game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone two years ago.
Braun also had a public falling-out with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend and business partner who expressed disappointment after hearing the news of the slugger's suspension last summer.
"I was backing up a friend," Rodgers said during an interview in July. "He looked me in the eye on multiple occasions and repeatedly denied these allegations and said they were not true. ... It doesn't feel great being lied to like that, and I'm disappointed in the way it all went down."
When asked Thursday whether he's taken any steps to mend his frayed relationship with Rodgers, Braun demurred.
"I'd rather not get into my specific relationship with Aaron or anybody else," he said.
The Brewers have featured Braun in billboard and print ads for the 2014 season and continue to view him as a prominent face of the franchise despite the hits to his reputation through his suspension. Braun lost $3.25 million in salary for the 65 games he missed last year but is still owed $117 million through the 2020 season.
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke, like Braun, expects fans to be vociferous when the Brewers go on the road this season.
"Great players get booed," Roenicke said. "We went to Chicago, and every time there Ryan was booed. It's just going to be a little more often for him now.
"I'm hoping he continues to do the right things to make sure everything is good as far as his playing ability and make sure he gets back in the good graces of the community. He worked awfully hard to build up a relationship with the fans in Milwaukee. We all make mistakes, and we're pretty forgiving people. I think everything will be fine, and they'll welcome him back really well."
Rough treatment from fans isn't the only obstacle on Braun's agenda this year. After playing third base as a rookie, he moved to the outfield in 2008 and had made 817 starts in left field. This year he'll move to right field to accommodate Khris Davis, who slugged .596 in 56 games as a rookie to earn the starting job in left.
Braun is also coming back from a thumb injury that contributed to a significant drop in his power numbers. Before accepting his suspension, Braun hit only nine homers and slugged a career-low .498 in 225 at-bats. Roenicke said the team's trainers continue to work on ways to pad his batting gloves so that the thumb won't be an issue this season.
Braun said he doesn't anticipate any problems getting back into the clubhouse mix. Judging from the tone of his teammates, it's a topic they're anxious to put behind them. From 2007 through 2012, Braun ranked third in the majors in runs scored (614), fifth in hits (1,089) and OPS (.943), sixth in home runs (202) and seventh in batting average (.313) and RBIs (643), so he'll have to return to form quickly for the Brewers to improve upon their 74-88 record and fourth-place finish in the NL Central.
"It was dramatic last year, but to me it's over with and this is a new year," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "All of us in here individually have a lot of drama going on with our lives. We don't need any more. We're done with it. I am, personally."
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