Because Ryan Braun was undersized, he wasn’t asked to provide power for his Little League team.
“I was always small,’’ he said. “I was a leadoff hitter growing up until I was 13 or 14 years old, and had a little growth spurt and started hitting home runs.”
Now in his fifth season with Milwaukee, Braun has clouted long homers, cracking 30 or more with 100 runs batted in three times.
Through last Sunday, the 27-year-old Braun was first in the National League with 40 runs scored, second with 12 homers, fourth with 38 RBIs, and sixth with a .320 batting average.
Along with first baseman Prince Fielder, the two have pushed the Brewers to a 29-24 record, second in the NL Central behind St. Louis.
A right-handed pull hitter, Braun uses his hand strength and bat speed to punish the ball.
“He’s got tremendously quick hands and really hits through the ball,’’ said one-time Milwaukee hitting coach Jim Skaalen.
These are natural gifts, but Braun, a left fielder, works daily on making contact.
Gordon Ash, a former General Manager with the Toronto Blue Jays and current assistant G.M. with the Brewers, said Braun has distinguished himself at the plate.
“There is something about the way the ball jumps off his bat,’’ he said. “You can hear it.”
After a stellar career at Granada Hills High, Braun had scholarship offers from Stanford, UC Berkeley and Miami.
Braun chose the Hurricanes and quickly stood out. After one season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was tabbed national freshman of the year. Quite an honor for Braun, who played three seasons at Miami, and was selected fifth overall by Milwaukee in the 2005 draft.
In his first big-league season, Braun played in 113 games, had 451 at-bats, mashed 34 homers, with 97 RBIs, had a .634 slugging percentage, a .370 on-base mark and batted .324.
For this, Braun was named Rookie of the Year, and given the same honor by The Sporting News and Baseball America.
It’s rare for a young player to make such an impact, but that’s what Braun did.
Though his batting average slipped to .285 in 2008, Braun finished with 37 homers and 106 RBIs, a .553 slugging percentage, a .335 on-base average, and was named to the first of three consecutive All-Star teams.
Lou Piniella managed several major league clubs, including most recently in Chicago. When Cubs’ pitcher Ryan Dempster nailed Braun with an offering, Piniella, an “old school type,’’ said this was necessary.
“One thing is for certain,’’ he said. “You’ve got to tie up Braun from time to time. If you don’t, he’s going to feast on you.”
That same year, the long-suffering Brewers qualified for the playoffs, but were ousted by the eventual champion Philadelphia Phillies in the opening round.
Braun’s numbers were very good, but not overwhelming. In 16 at-bats, he managed five hits that included two doubles and had two RBIs.
Nothing is ever promised. But it’s safe to say Braun’s magical ride has just begun.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.