There are a few things to remember when it comes to certain baseball players like Ryan Braun.
One thing to remember is that if you’re at a Brewers game in which Braun is in the lineup, leave him alone. Keep the boos well below J.D. Drew level to something more apt for a Scott Rolen plate appearance.
Sure, go ahead and boo Braun. He knows it’s coming after the long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs he completed last season. But just don’t be overly obnoxious with it.
He likes it too much.
“I try to use it to my advantage,” Braun said.
In Tuesday afternoon’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was greeted with over-the-top boos and catcalls that seemed to fuel his obnoxious and over-the-top performance in Milwaukee's 10-4 victory over the Phillies (see Instant Replay). Braun went 3 for 5 with three homers and seven RBIs even though he went into the game with an injured thumb, ugly swings in batting practice and just three hits for the season.
Actually, of all the games to break his season-long funk, Braun was surprised it was this one. During batting practice before the game, Braun said he swung as hard as he could and couldn’t hit one out.
“I don’t think there was any chance I could have a game like this,” Braun said. “The game works in mysterious ways. It was kind of a crazy game and I enjoy this atmosphere and this environment. It’s motivating for me and helps get that adrenaline going.”
Oh yes, the environment. Braun says he is used to hearing fans scream and holler whenever his name is called, and by now it’s nothing more than background noise. But after a series in Boston followed by another at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was like a bear messing with a bees’ nest trying to get some honey.
After a while he doesn’t even feel the stings any more -- the reward is just too sweet.
“I love it. It’s great,” Braun said of the negative fan reaction he receives. “Seriously, as a competitor I really enjoy it. It’s a challenging game and it’s a long season and playing in an environment and atmosphere like this is certainly motivating.”
There’s something to that, says Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. Certain players just seem to thrive in contemptuous situations. For instance, Roenicke remembered when he was coaching the Angels and how loud and crazy the fans in Anaheim got whenever Jose Guillen came to town to play.
The louder Guillen was booed, the better he played.
“We were just like, ‘Leave him alone.’ Really. It makes a difference,” Roenicke said. “And those guys who can turn it up, you don’t want to be messing with them.”
Phillies fans messed with Braun, and he’s the one who got into their heads.
“It isn’t anything new to me or anything I haven’t experienced,” Braun said.
No, filling the role of public enemy No. 1 is something he does well. In fact, Braun was first entwined in a PED scandal following the 2011 season when he won the National League MVP award. During the 2012 season, Braun was booed at every stop -- especially Philadelphia -- and turned in a career-best 41 homers, 112 RBIs and a .319 batting average.
Braun’s numbers were enhanced, so to speak, whenever he faced the Phillies. In seven games, Braun hit six homers, drove in 10 runs and batted .519 (14 for 27) with a 1.296 slugging percentage. He went only 9 for 26 against the Phillies last season, but for his career he destroys Phillies pitching.
He has 10 homers in 20 games at Citizens Bank Park and 17 homers with 37 RBIs to go with a .392 batting average (69 for 176) in 44 games against the Phillies. Only two of those homers came against Phils starter Kyle Kendrick, but in going 9 for 19 (.474) against the righty, Braun had little difficulty figuring things out.
Maybe Braun didn’t need to use PEDs. Maybe he just needed to face the Phillies.
“I don’t know [why I hit well against the Phillies]. Obviously this ballpark is good to hit in. That’s pretty well documented, but there’s nothing specific about this team,” Braun said. “I like competing against Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.”
Chalk it up to the challenging atmosphere and good teams. Considering that Braun has 14 homers in 49 games in Cincinnati and eight in St. Louis -- two of the Brewers' NL Central rivals -- he likes the big stage.
He also likes it when the fans in those places boo him.
“At times, it certainly drives him, no question about that,” Roenicke said. “He’s a special hitter and those guys, when they turn it up, they turn it up.”
Last time it happened ...
The last time the Phillies allowed three home runs in a game to a hitter was May 19, 2011 at Citizens Bank Park against Jason Giambi and the Rockies.
Incidentally, Giambi is a player (like Braun) who was embroiled in a PED scandal. He also hit two of his three home runs that game against Kyle Kendrick.