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Ryan Braun's New Normal
For the Brewers star slugger, is it really so much different than before?

So he's been cheered like a baseball Bono.

And he's been booed like a baseball Bozo.

And now? Now, maybe he can simply be a baseball Braun.

That's surely how Ryan Braun would prefer it. Well, scratch that. He'd actually prefer to be the same old Braun, known merely as one of the best players in baseball.

And that's exactly how it would be if news of his failed drug test had never leaked. Because the pending suspension would've been delivered in secrecy, and his appeal process would've played out in secrecy, and Braun would've won it in secrecy. So the only fan base with an ax to grind would've lived in Los Angeles, where they'd still think Braun stole the 2011 NL MVP award from Matt Kemp.

Instead, we're left with this new reality, a Braun who polarizes people, and now we've seen both sides of it. Milwaukee Brewers fans, as proven by raucous his Opening Day ovation, will still cheer their lungs out for him and hope he leads them to the playoff promised land.

Chicago Cubs fans, meanwhile, paired their throaty boos with handmade posters declaring him a cheater. And those were just the kind ones. It's a scene sure to play out in ballparks across America, albeit in varying degrees – worse in rivalry cities like St. Louis, not so much in relatively staid spots like San Diego.

But when Braun stands in front of the media, he sounds ready for it all. He's still calm and cool and smiling. He still looks his questioners in the eye while delivering well-spoken, concise (and perhaps rehearsed) answers.

"I just look forward to the focus being on the team and not on the situation that I've had to deal with," he said on Opening Day. "When the games start, ultimately it's about wins and losses, and everything else becomes secondary."

And when Braun steps to the plate, he looks ready for it all. He's as mechanically sound as ever. He's already driving the ball, be it for home runs in Miller Park or doubles off the wall in Wrigley.

In other words, it all looks rather, well... normal. A somewhat new normal, to be sure, but normal nonetheless. Friends were always going to cheer for him. Foes were always going to cheer against him. He was always going to be in the media spotlight. He was always going to be Milwaukee's main offensive threat.

All of that still holds true today. It's simply a matter of degrees. And perhaps a matter of word choices on those handmade posters.

To which Braun can no doubt fall back on a few word choices of his own. Probably something about sticks and stones.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. And listen to me chat sports with Mitch Teich Friday at 10 a.m. on WUWM's "Lake Effect."

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