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OPINION - Cheering for Braun

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I was surprised to see Ryan Braun get a standing ovation for his first at-bat of the season. Even his supporters know what he is: a cheater, twice caught. A reluctant apologizer who talks vaguely about mistakes instead of owning what he did. Fans also know that the Brewers, as a small market team that cant afford many big-money players, have given their biggest long-term contract to damaged goods. Hank The Dog merchandise will probably outsell Braun jerseys this year. And not to mention, the team had a better record during his suspension last year than when Braun was playing.

Im not sure if the cheers that rose from Miller Park say more about blind loyalty of the team or our capacity to forgive.

Everything Braun has accomplished in his career so far: an MVP award, a lifetime .312 average, 211 career home runs, should be viewed with skepticism. Without the juice he might be much less than hes been until now.

But, I too, like the Brewers. I find it hard to cheer for the team but root against a player. So I've found a reason to cheer for Ryan Braun.

Braun, now 30 years old, had an exceptional spring training. Maybe its because he had an extended time off to heal his sore thumb and bad back. Maybe its because his time in exile helped clear his head. During the first three weeks of practice games his batting average was above .500. His on-base percentage was above .900 through his first 10 games. In short, Ryan Braun showed that he's an elite ballplayer without cheating.

No one can maintain those stats over the length of a baseball season. But Braun has incredible abilities. If he does well this year, he could become the penultimate argument against using HGH and steroids. Hed be an example to other players that the benefits of shooting up are on the margins. Braun could demonstrate that athletic skills trump your pharmacist when it comes to playing baseball.

If a clean Ryan Braun has a great season, other players would think twice about using performance enhancing drugs. If a player can get the same results au natural, why cheat? Thats worth cheering for.

Chris Conley

Image: Ryan Braun,REUTERS/Ralph D. Fresovia wsau.com