The month of March is usually one of the best times of the year. College basketball is in tournament mode, NFL Draft hype is in full swing, and of course MLB Spring Training. Yet, in ever turbulent times, the usual reliability that is the spring baseball is missing one long time piece — Milwaukee Brewers mainstay, Ryan Braun.
Each team has their legends, and Brewers fans in their mid-to-late twenties have Ryan Braun. For many of us too young to know or remember the days of Molitor, Fingers or Yount, Ryan Braun was the first favorite player for an entire generation. Sure there were fan favorites, Richie Sexson, Lyle Oooooooooverbay, Geoff Jenkins, Ben Sheets, and even Prince Fielder.
Brewers Decline Option of Ryan Braun
None of them measure up to Ryan Braun. There are a few reasons Braun sticks out.
First, Braun was a key part of the new identity of Milwaukee baseball. The rebuild finally came through after some very lean years. The next crop finally came through. JJ Hardy, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and of course Ryan Braun brought hope to a long struggling franchise. In 2007, Braun’s NL Rookie of the Year campaign, Milwaukee had its first winning season since 1992. The following year, its first playoff appearance since 1982. In 2011, Braun’s MVP season, a trip to the NLCS. The Brewers were on the forefront of baseball, largely in part to Ryan Braun. Years later in the resurgence of Brewers baseball, the twilight of Braun’s career, he was the vocal leader in the clubhouse in 3 straight playoff appearances from 2018 to 2020.
Second, you can’t think about Ryan Braun’s tenure in Milwaukee without being flooded by clutch memories. In 2008 it was a go ahead home run in the 8th inning in Game 162 against the Cubs that brought Milwaukee to clinching that aforementioned playoff appearance. In 2011, Braun launched a 3 run homer against the Marlins to clinch the NL Central. Years later, in 2018 Game 163 for the NL Central, Braun hit an RBI single up the middle for an insurance run. During the Brewers 2019 September stretch without Christian Yelich, it was once again Ryan Braun delivering in a situation every kid plays out in the backyard. Down by one run, in the top of the 9th at your one of your arch rivals, bases loaded, full count, Braun hit a grand slam. These and countless other memories over a career are why we love Ryan Braun.
Other franchises have these guys, and many of them are stepping away. David Wright for the Mets, Joe Mauer with Twins, and Adrian Beltre with the Rangers just to name a few. Guys who made a legacy with their team. Yet Braun was different. The haters will point to the scandal, that he never won a ring, but Brewers fans were able to overlook that. Most of baseball was able to, outside of the NL Central cities, and maybe Dodgers fans. But to the Milwaukee faithful it never mattered. Braun was one of the faces of not one but two significant stretches in team history, nearly a decade apart. Braun stayed here. Fielder left for the money. Can’t blame him for that but he left. Other guys got traded away, Lucroy, Gomez, Sexson, Jenkins, and the list goes on and on. Others more fizzled out, Braun didn’t.
In baseball’s smallest market, Braun grew up with us and the reality is that we’re never ready to say goodbye. Hope against hope, Brewers fans deserve a chance to fill American Family Field (formerly Miller Park), and cheer off their hero one last time. Ryan deserves that send off. Braun joined Bob Uecker during Monday’s Spring Training game, stating that he is working out but has no intention of playing. Braun did coyly hint at retirement, but also wouldn’t fully commit to it.
On the flip side, former third baseman Trevor Plouffe had some encouraging words for Brewers fans, “Ryan is thinking he can come back in July. He doesn’t want to play until then but he can be an addition for them, pretty much the only team he’d play for.” Call it wishful thinking but I’d be willing to bet most Brewers fans are on hoping Plouffe is right.
Odds are Ryan Braun won’t see this, but if he does all I can say is, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You. Thank you for being the Great 8, the guy that I tooled my swing after in high school. For being there every summer night when I turned on the TV with my dad or my friends. Thank you for putting the Brewers on the map. Thank you for everything on and off the field that you did for this city and this state. And last thank you for all the memories. Wisconsin is lucky to have had you.