MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun figures to have some unpleasant experiences in the months ahead as comes back from a 65-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
But for the most part, Sunday wasn’t one of them, as Braun made the latest of a series of makeup efforts with Milwaukee Brewers fans by appearing at the annual Brewers On Deck event at the downtown Wisconsin Center.
He participated in Milwacky Squares, a takeoff on the Hollywood Squares game show, along with several teammates and team officials, where one apparently disillusioned fan interrupted things by yelling out that Braun was “a liar.”
But many of the 14,138 fans at the event seemed willing to forgive Braun, who attracted by far the largest crowd for his autograph session at the end of the day.
“I’ve been a supporter of Braun forever,” said Brad Hays of Milwaukee. “I believe in forgiving people for their mistakes. I give him the benefit of the doubt and I’m ready for the season to start. I think Brewers fans are forgiving, just like Packers fans who are beginning to forgive Brett Favre. I wish it never would’ve happened, just like everybody else. But we’ve just got to hope for the best and move on.”
Hays paid $10 for Brewers charities to have Braun sign a No. 8 jersey.
“It’ll be framed and go up on the wall,” he said.
Janis Kling of Caledonia also was in a forgiving mood and believes most Brewers fans are of a like mind.
“I was so sad at first, but then I realized we all make mistakes and we all deserve a second chance,” she said. “So I’m really happy he’s back, and I want him to do well. It really has been an emotional thing. I was really upset at first, believe me. But the more I thought about it, I thought, I’ve screwed up and done stupid things, but I’m not in the limelight like he is.
“I was talking to people in line, and people all seemed to be happy he’s back. And you look at the amount of people in line for him, that should make him feel good.”
David DeQuardo of Milwaukee and his 11-year-old daughter Alexis each got Braun autographs. But he’s still not quite ready to move on.
“I’m not happy with what happened,” DeQuardo said. “I think he’s going to have to prove himself this year. If he has a bad year, people are going to assume that steroids made his career better. He might have a rough year because people are going to boo him at all the other stadiums.
“Me, personally, being a lifelong fan, I think what he did was a disgrace to the game. But you have to give him a chance and hopefully he’ll stay clean the rest of his career.
“I always liked him. I’m just not happy with what he did. I’ll root for him, but he owes a lot to these fans. Just look them all.”
Team owner Mark Attanasio said he’s been monitoring Braun’s efforts to win back the fans, which started with a surprise appearance at a Thanksgiving charity event.
“I think Ryan has taken a number of steps,” Attanasio said. “And as I said to everybody when this all hit in July, this was going to be an ongoing process. I’d say so far, so good.
“I think he’s mindful, and I continue to remind him, that it’s an ongoing process and he’s going to continue to need to take the right kind of steps to have the kind of support in the community that he once enjoyed.”
Attanasio — who along with Braun is a Los Angeles resident — said he tried to maintain the status quo in dealing with his star player. They had dinner along with manager Ron Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin. He also attended Braun’s recent wedding, and both were at Rickie Weeks’ wedding.
“One of the things I decided to do was to do everything as I always have,” Attanasio said. “I decided to not talk to him more than I did before, but on the other hand, I wasn’t going to avoid him. I try to have a relationship with a number of our players. It’s important to me to connect with them and to continue to with Ryan.”
Braun met briefly with reporters and said he’s prepared for what awaits him.
“There’s no blueprint,” Braun said. “There’s no specific, ‘This is how you deal with a situation like this.’ Not a lot of people have been through something like this, so, certainly, this is a unique and challenging set of circumstances. But I’ve never been afraid of a challenge. I’m looking forward to everything the future holds.”
In a bizarre way, he said he actually looks forward to some of the hostility he is bound to face.
“I dealt with it in 2012, dealt with it for the majority of 2013, so I think I have an idea of what I’m getting myself into,” Braun said. “As a competitor, in a really odd way, I enjoy it. I think it’s fun. I think the more hostile an environment is, the more enjoyable it is. I just enjoy that pressure. In a really unique way, I actually enjoy and look forward to it.”
But at the same time, he acknowledged again he wishes he could go back and do things over.
“I’ve always taken tremendous pride in being a role model,” Braun said. “I made a huge mistake. I’ve paid a great price for that mistake.
“The opportunities I’ve had to reach out to season ticketholders, reach out to suiteholders and interact with people, I let them know that, basically, I made a mistake. I deeply regret it. I wish I could change it. I recognize I don’t have an opportunity to do that, so all I can do is focus on the present, focus on the future, look forward to this year, and go out there and do the things that I’ve done in the past.
“Hopefully, I can be one of the best players in the game and show them that I learned from my mistake, that I’ve learned from it and that hopefully I have become a better person because of it.”