Monday, December 12, 2011

Ryan Braun named MVP, tests positive for banned substance

It's been quite the emotional rollercoaster for the Milwaukee Brewers over the past couple of months. There was the thrill of winning their first division title in 30 years, followed by the agonizing collapse at the hands of the eventual World Series champion and division-rival St. Louis Cardinals. About a month later, Brewer fans everywhere rejoiced as All-Star slugger Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp for the National League MVP award, swiping 20 of 32 first-place votes. But the announcement of the regular season awards also marked the start of the offseason, and fans got daily reminders that Prince Fielder had not only most likely played his last game in Milwaukee, but even worse he had a good chance of becoming a Cub. And before we even had time to celebrate the departure of Albert Pujols, an even bigger bombshell dropped – Ryan Braun had tested positive for an illegal substance.

This news left people even more stunned than the Pujols deal, and shocked not only Brewer fans but the entire baseball world. Suddenly, one of the pillars of the game today, and one of the shining examples of how well the drug policy was working with today's modern sluggers, had cheated the system and taken us all back to a topic we thought was long past in the rear-view mirror – performance enhancing drugs. This was supposed to be over. We were supposed to be talking about exciting things like the new CBA and divisional realignement, the Athletics' ballpark saga, expanding instant replay and the playoffs – fun things. Things to foster progress in the game. But then suddenly, a giant step backwards. A week ago all that was on the minds of the common Brewer fan was who was going to play short. The signings of Alex Gonzalez, Aramis Ramirez, and K-Rod, while a week ago would have meant World Series or bust, now almost feel insignificant. What's the point without Braun? The face of this franchise has turned his back on his team and his city and has left the entire 2012 season in limbo before spring camp has even started.

I'm still kind in disbelief over the whole thing. I almost feel like somebody told me that Santa Claus isn't real. Braun is a hero and role model in Milwaukee, to myself included, and I just feel like he let down an entire city by cheating. He was the first Brewer MVP since arguably the greatest Brewer of all time, Robin Yount. Braun had a chance to be even better than Yount, but that is now forever tainted because his career will always have that shadow lurking in the court of public opinion. It really hurts when somebody you put so much faith in is not the person you thought they were. Ryan's brutal honesty and impeccable character have temporarily earned my trust; I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are out and the appeal is over. But if he is found guilty, it will undoubtedly take some time before I can root for him with the same passion I had before.

Earlier I posed the question, what's the point without Braun? To use an analogy familiar to Wisconsinites, it's the same thing many Packer fans were asking when Brett Favre left in 2008. I certainly did. The only reason I watched the Packers for many years was to see Favre play. He was a hero and could do no wrong, and I loved how he played the game and admired him as a person. Then all of a sudden, for various reasons he became kind of an outcast, and that magical way people felt about him seemed to wane. Ryan Braun is almost the exact same situation. I'm not too old or too proud to admit that I have sports heroes, and Favre and Braun are definitely two of them. Hero or no hero, just as the Packers did, the show must go on. It's not fair to hold it against the entire team just because one player is out. And who knows, maybe the Brewers will find their “Aaron Rodgers” this year while Braun is out? I thought I would never forgive Favre for leaving the Packers the way he did. But even the next season, as he looked like an idiot donning Viking purple, I always put aside my feelings for 3 hours to watch him play and found myself instinctively rooting for him. I still loved to watch him play, and I always will. Even though Ryan Braun has a lot of explaining to do and has disappointed and hurt an entire state's worth of fans, I hope that each time he's between the chalk lines, I'll be able to put all the anger aside to watch him play for my hometown team. The Brewers have always felt like a part of my family, and what do family members do? They forgive each other, and they support each other unconditionally, for better or for worse. I will always be privileged to say to my grandchildren someday that I got to see the best hitter of his generation play his entire career as a Brewer, and no drug test or sports writer can ever tell me otherwise.