Ryan Joseph Braun was born on November 17, 1983 in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His father, Joe, an insurance claims adjuster, was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States when he was seven. His mother, Diane, is a brewer—she works for Anheuser-Busch.
Ryan and his younger brother, Steve, were obsessed with baseball as kids. Ryan’s favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. From a very young age, Ryan sensed that he had the talent and drive to be a big leaguer. However, his childhood was equally defined by academics. His parents always praised his grades more than his accomplishments on the baseball field.
By the time Ryan reached Granada Hills High School, he was already a top prospect at shortstop. He hit well over .400 in three of his four years of varsity baseball, including .456 as a sophomore. He was also the team captain and MVP during for his final three season. As a senior in 2002, Ryan broke the school’s career home run record of 25 and batted over .450 again.
The Highlanders boasted one of several powerhouse sports programs in the San Fernando Valley, so Ryan got plenty of exposure. Among the high-profile athltes who graduated from Granada Hills were John Elway and Gary Mathews Jr. Actors Valerie Bertinelli and Robert Englund (aka Freddy Kruger) are also alums.
Despite Ryan’s high school success, he was determined to go to college. He put the word out that he was not yet interested in entering the big leagues, and thus he was not selected by any big-league club in the 2002 draft. Ryan was offered scholarships to UC-Berkley and Stanford, but he chose to head to the east coast. He entered the University of Miami as a freshman for all the reasons any smart young man would: the academics, the athletics and the girls.Leaving his family and friends in California was a tough call, but his performance on the baseball diamond and in the classroom never skipped a beat.
Ryan tore up Division I competition for the Hurricanes. He hit .364 in 2003 as a freshman and led the team with 17 homers and 76 RBIs. He was named to Baseball America’s Freshman All-America Team.
The following season, Miami went 50–13 and achieved a Top 5 national ranking. Ryan had another outstanding year, batting .335 with 10 home runs and a team-best 21 steals. Among the future big leaguers on the team were Brian Barton, Gaby Sanchez and Chris Perez.
Miami slipped to 41–19 in Ryan’s junior season, suffering from a dismaying power outage. Ryan, in fact, proved to be the only big bat hitter in the lineup, crashing 18 homers to go with a .388 average and team-leading 76 RBIs. No other ’Cane had more than eight dingers.
Ryan was honored by Baseball America again, this time getting the nod as the DH on the magazine’s All-America squad. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award and ACC Baseball Player of the Year.
Ryan also dealt with a defensive move during his junior year. Miami coach Jim Morris felt his star was a better fit at third base, but Ryan was unsure at first. He got on the phone with Alex Rodriguez, who had made the same switch after joining the New York Yankees in 2004. A-Rod shared his insights and helped Ryan’s transition go as smoothly as possible.
ON THE RISE
As Ryan’s junior season drew to a close, it was clear he was ready for the pros. Jack Zduriencik, the scouting director for the Brewers, had been keeping track of Ryan since his high school days. The Milwaukee brass knew that the young star had a big-league stick. But what convinced the team to draft him ws his play at third base. The Brewers had a hole at the hot croner. Ryan slotted there perfectly for them.
It was a stellar year for third baseman entering the draft. Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman were also turning pro. All three wre viewed as future All-Stars. The Brewers selected Ryan with the fifth pick overall. They quickly signed the 21-year-old for $2.45 million. He would soon join a young infield that include shortstop J.J. Hardy, second baseman Rickie Weeks, and first baseman Prince Fielder. Milwaukee fans dreamed of the kind of nucleus that had keyed the championship teams fielded by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ryan streaked through the Milwaukee system, starting in the Pioneer League and earning a promotion to the West Virginia Power of the Class A South Atlantic League after 10 days. There he hit .355 with 35 RBIs in 37 games. He was rated the fifth-best prospect in the league.
Ryan jumped to High-A Brevard County in 2006 and played well enough in 59 games to earn another promotion, this time to the Class AA Huntsville Stars of the Southern League. He played 59 games there too, batting .303 wioth 15 homers. He received the Robin Yount Performance Award and was named the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year.
Ryan began the 2007 season with the Nashville Sounds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. However, his bus-riding days were nearing an end. Ryan sizzled at the plate to start the year and led the league with .726 slugging percentage and .354 batting average. The Brewers,meanwhile, watched their third base platoon of Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino hit a combined .214. Although the organization was unsure if Ryan was ready defensively, there was no doubting what he could do with a bat in his hands. On May 24, he got the call that he’d been waiting for.
Two days later, Ryan hit his first major league home run, off Justin Germano of San Diego Padres. It was the first step in one of the most impressive rookie seasons in baseball history. In June, Ryan led all National League rookies with six homers and 21 RBIs. In July, he was even better, hitting .345 with 11 dingers and 25 RBIs. Ryan was crowned NL Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month, the first time that anyone had won both awards simultaneously.
The Brewers found themselves in a tight race in the NL Central, a position hardly familiar to them. The team had not been to the postseason since 1982. Ryan thrived on the pressure. By mid-August, he had hit 15 home runs. Only Albert Pujols had ever reached this milestone faster. Even so, Ryan still had to endure rookie hazing. In addition to carrying bags, he made his singing debut, belting out renditions of the Boyz II Men classics “On Bended Knee” and “Water Runs Dry.”
Despite Ryan’s best efforts, the Brewers struggled as the September pennant race heated up. After briefly grabbing first place in the division, Milwaukee stumbled and finished out of the playoffs. Hitting third in the lineup, Ryan ended the month with a .308 batting average with 27 runs scored.
In only 113 games in 2007, Ryan led the NL with a .634 slugging percentage, breaking Mark McGwire’s rookie record set 20 years earlier. He was also in the Top 10 in the league in home runs per at-bat, home runs and batting average. He sotle 15 bags for good measure.
Part of the reason for Ryan’s success was the guy hitting behind him in the lineup, Fielder. The 23-year-old slugged 50 homers and drove in 119 runs. That left opponents in a no-win situation. If they pitched around Ryan, Fielder would hit with runners on base. If they went after Ryan, they often paid the price.
With the Brewers watching the postseason from home, the only intrigue left for Milwaukee fans was the Rookie of the Year voting. Ryan’s main competition would be from Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. The Colorado shortstop had started the year in the bigs and put up impressive numbers. He and Ryan were both deserving candidates.
The night before the announcement, Ryan had trouble sleeping. His anxiety was relieved when he learned he had received 17 of the 32 first-place votes and 128 totals pointsfrom the Writer’s Association of America. Tulowitzki, meanwhile, got 15 first-place votes and 126 points. Ryan was the NL Rookie of the Year. The two-point differential was the closest since the current balloting system was changed in 1980.
Over the winter, the Brewers told Ryan that they wanted him to switch from the hot corner to the outfield. He had been an infielder his entire life, so he had some trepidation. But the team was looking to improve its overall defense. Milwaukee had signed free agent Mike Cameron to play center. The presence of the Gold Glover would help Ryan’s transition. Meanwhile, Bill Hall would take over everyday at third, with slick fielding Mat Gamel slated to eventually take his place.
Ryan, always a team-first player, agreed to the move. He looked forward to the 2008 campaign, knowing that the Brewers were stacked. The infield was anchored by Fielder. The outfield featured Ryan, Cameron and Corey Hart. The rotation rounded out with Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan and rising star Yovani Gallardo.
MAKING HIS MARK
Ryan opened the season swinging on bat. May was a particularly good month. He batted .322 and crushed 11 home runs. That was enough to convince the Brewers to lock him down with a long-term deal. They signed Ryan to a seven-year contract worth $45 million.
The club, however, was struggling to win games. At 20-24, Milwaukee was seven games behind the frontrunning Cubs. Ryan decided it was his responsibility to step up and be a leader in the clubhouse. In a impassioned speech, he talked about what it takes to be a winner. If a team expects to lose, he told his teammates, then it will. Winning was not just about trying hard. It was about expecting to beat any team on any given day.
Ryan also led by example. Over the next 16 games, he hit .322 with three homers and 11 RBIs. The Brewers won 12 times and vaulted into the NL Central race.
With the team looking like a real contender, management pulled the trigger on a huge deal in July, shipping a group of prospects to Cleveland for 2007 Cy Young winner CC Sabathia. The big lefty joined Sheets at the top of the rotation for one of the most formidable one-two pitching punches in all of baseball.
The trade energized the Brewers and their fans. The Milwaukke faithful showed their love by giving Ryan the most All-Star fan votes among NL outfielders. Only Chase Utley topped him in overall balloting. Ryan’s first All-Star experience was a memorable one. He got to play in Yankee Stadium and also participated in the Home Run Derby.
Ryan finished July in style and was named NL Player of the Month, He hit .366 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. A few weeks later, Ryan launched his 30th home run, becoming just the second player in baseball history to reach that plateau in each of his first two seasons. Once again, he joined Pujols on the record lists.
With Sabathia pitching lights out and Sheets having a career year, the Brewers were no longer a Cinderella story. They were now expected to win. The expectations were a lot to handle. The team began to falter in August. With only weeks remaining in the season, manager Ned Yost was fired and replaced with bench coach Dale Sveum. On the last day of the campaign, the Brewers needed a win and a loss by the Mets to clinch a playoff spot. In the eighth inning of an even game, Ryan smashed a two-run home run to beat the Cubs. When the New Yorkers fell to the Marlins against the Marlins, Milwauke clinched the Wild Card. Mass celebration ensued.
Unfortunately it was short-lived. Ryan and the Brewers ran into the red-hot Phillies. Philadelphia took the Division Series in four games. Ryan had nice series, batting over .300 with a pair of doubles. But the Phillies were too much. They would go on to win the World Series behind MVP Cole Hamels.
Ryan ended the 2008 season with 37 home runs, 106 RBIs and a .285 batting average. He posted those numbers numbers despite a rib cage injury that slowed him in the last six weeks of the year. In the offseason, he was awarded the NL Outfielder Silver Slugger Award and finished third in the NL MVP voting behind Pujols and Ryan Howard.
Ryan accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in 2009. He felt it was an honor to represent his country. Even though his ribcage injury returned, he was able to grind out a .381 batting average with a home run and two RBIs. The Americans lost in the semi-finals.
Ryan started 2009 slowly, but he picked up the pace in May. Once again, he produced MVP-type numbers. For the first time in his career, he rapped out more than 200 hits and set a new personal high with 114 RBIs. He made the All-Star team again and showed continued progress defensively.
The Brewers, however, took a step back. After losing Sabathia to free agency and letting Sheets walk, Milwaukee had precious little pitching depth. It showed as the season progressed. The team finished 80-82 under new manager Ken Macha.
The Brewers have the bats to compete with any team in baseball. The question is whether they can assemble a pitching staff to match. In his mid-20s, Ryan is only beginning to blossom. He is one of baseball’s most dynamic young hitters, and he doesn’t take losing lightly. Those are two of the reasons why Milwaukee fans can believe that a championship isn't nearly the uncertainty it used to be.
RYAN THE PLAYER
Ryan is tall and lean, but his swing is short and compact. He finishes his stroke high above his shoulders, which helps him launch breathtaking home runs. But Ryan can also hit for high average . When he steps into the batter’s box, he flaps his elbows a bit like a bird and adjusts his jersey. He is a natural pull hitter with excellent bat speed. Hs quick, strong wrists allow him to handle any pitch in the strike zone and drive it anywhere on the field.
Ryan has great speed as well. In fact, his game has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez. He doesn’t steal as many bases as A-Rod did in his younger days, but that's partly because he has fewer opportunities.
Ryan played shortstop virtually his entire childhood. Now a leftfielder, he has shown that he is an outstanding all-around athlete with an excellent arm. The combination of his great speed and his developing ability to track the ball makes him a candidate for a Gold Glove some day.
Ryan has shown the desire to be a leader on the field and in the locker room. He isn't afraid to challenge a teammate, and he earns respect with his work ethic.
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