Jewish Brewers star Ryan Braun—the rival Cubs fans love to hate

The League's most prominent Jewish player has more hits, doubles, and runs driven in against the North Siders than he has against any other opponent.

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Ryan Braun playing in 2015. Photo credit: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers.

What else can Ryan Braun say? He loves playing at Wrigley Field.

That's true even though Braun, a longtime star for the rival Milwaukee Brewers, is approximately as welcome there as a fungal disease in the iconic ivy that adorns the outfield walls.

Cubs fans love to boo the 35-year-old Braun, the foremost reason being that he has made Wrigley Field his personal playpen. Braun -- the most prominent Jewish player in the major leagues -- has more hits (205), doubles (48), and runs driven in (125) against the North Siders than he has against any other opponent.

"I've always enjoyed playing here," he told reporters last August after belting two home runs in a 7-0 Brewers victory. "As a competitor, there's no more enjoyable atmosphere to play in than this."

And then he added this whopper: "The more hostile the environment, the more enjoyable it is."

He said those things, of course, before the Brewers got wickedly hot and caught -- and, arguably, crushed -- the National League Central rival Cubs down the stretch of the 2018 season. The Cubs won eight of the first nine games between the teams in 2018, but the Brewers roared back to win eight of the last 11. The capper was the division tiebreaker -- Game 163 -- at Wrigley, in which Braun's eighth-inning single put the visitors ahead 3-1 in a game they'd win by that same score.

The Cubs lost the N.L. wild-card game to the Colorado Rockies a day later, leaving Chicago fans in a bewildered stupor.

Braun, a Los Angeles native, was on an upward trajectory from the very start of his baseball days. He starred as a high schooler and at the University of Miami before becoming the Brewers' first-round pick in the 2005 draft. He was the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2007 and reached his peak in 2011, as the league's Most Valuable Player. Braun has six All-Star Games on his considerable resumé.

In 2013, though, Braun's career was tarnished -- some Cubs fans would say permanently -- by a 65-game suspension for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. It's a turn-of-events he pays for to this day in the forms of boos and heckles, nowhere more so than at Wrigley.

"I can take it," he said last season. "It's not about me, anyway. To me, it's all about my team."

As the 2019 season gets rolling, Braun's Brewers are locked into -- along with the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals -- what baseball insiders expect to be as rough-and-tumble and gnarly a division race as there is in the game. The stakes will be as high as ever for an aging outfielder (and sometimes first baseman) who still likes to push his arms out to his sides and "fly" into the infield after victories.

Yes, that particular gesture is meant to tweak the sensibilities of whichever team the Brewers have just beaten. If it's the Cubs, all the better.

Braun's father, Joe, was born in Tel Aviv. His mother, Diane, is Catholic. Braun never attended a temple regularly, nor did he have a bar mitzvah. But he told USA Today several years into his career that his Jewish identity was important.

"It's a touchy subject because I don't want to offend anybody, and I don't want groups claiming me now because I'm having success," he said. "But I do consider myself definitely Jewish. And I'm extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids."

Some might question the role-model value of the T-shirts the Brewers wore at Wrigley Field for a 2017 series against the Cubs. The Brewers' shirts declared their team the "un-blank-withables." Only the shirts didn't say "blank." Brewers players clearly loved those shirts, Braun included.

"We're not here to make the other [team] happy," he said.

Braun is the Brewers' all-time leader in home runs, with 322. It only seems like most of those have come against the Cubs. He's old enough to be on the downside of his career, but that won't stop Cubs fans from jeering his every non-superstar-like moment. What else is anyone to say? Braun loves playing at Wrigley, and the feeling most definitely isn't mutual. 


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