“You’re my boy, Braun!”
It’s the bottom of the first inning of Friday’s game at Dodger stadium. I’m seated near the right field line, tucked two sections before the foul pole. Ryan Braun is close enough to hear me yell, but it’s not me bellowing to Braun that he’s my boy. It’s a guy wearing a Braun jersey seated in the section to my right.
“You’re a cheater, Braun! Nobody likes you… LA doesn’t like you!”
These howls come from a guy in a white shirt and black cap two rows behind the guy in the Braun jersey. The Braun-hater sways slightly as he stands with a beer in his hand. He’s inebriated but not yet belligerent. When he stops yelling to take a sip, the dude in the Braun jersey responds with equal gusto, “You’re my boy, Braun!”
This vocal tennis match continues through the bottom of the first inning. It becomes part of the background of the game as I focus on keeping score. Suddenly, a new agitated yell rises from my right. A middle-aged man in Brewers gear now stands in the middle of the neighboring section. In so many words, he tells the Braun-hater to show some respect and stop using profanities. The Braun-hater defiantly repeats his patter one more time then quiets. It’s not long before the inning ends and the Braun-hater disappears. Turns out he doesn’t have seats in that section. He’d just shown up there to give Braun a piece of his mind.
Between innings, I glance toward the guy in the Braun jersey. He takes a deep gulp from a one-liter bottle of Coke Zero, which I hope has more than Coke Zero in it. He glances in my direction to see me wearing a Brewers’ shirt and hat. I give him an approving nod and he reciprocates. Normally, I’m not the kind of guy who yells at ballgames. Tonight, I’m quietly keeping score while muttering nerdy stats under my breath. So I appreciate the hard work this Brewers fan is doing and hope that my nod relays, at least, part of that message.
The Brewers went on to win Friday night’s game in comeback fashion, fueled by a five-run eighth inning. Throughout the game, Braun received more light ribbing from the Dodgers’ right field denizens. Nothing with the same degree of vitriol spewed during the first inning but enough, every now and then, to garner the reassuring response “You’re my boy, Braun” from his fan.
When the game ends, the family next me bolts to find a place in the outfield grass for the Star Wars themed fireworks show. I make it to the aisle at the same time as the Braun fan. He introduces himself as “Andrew from Madison”. Together, we talk about the game while fighting against the flow of fans headed to the field. Since we’re both wily veterans of Dodgers Stadium, we know that leaving now means a quicker escape from Chavez Ravine.
While weaving through the parking lot, Andrew and I discuss the Brewers and Jimmy Nelson’s strong performance. He’s obviously a big fan and, in previous seasons, has followed the Crew to road games in San Diego and San Francisco. In his travels, Andrew had made it a habit to sit in sections by Braun. He started yelling “You’re my boy, Braun” years ago and it stuck. One time, Andrew’s catchphrase caught enough of Braun’s attention to get Braun to toss him a ball. Friday night, Andrew returned the favor by continuing to support Braun in hostile territory.
The scene Friday night seemed like a snapshot of what this season must be like for Braun on the road. Earfuls of antagonistic chatter cut by the occasional fan throwing him some compassion. He would never admit that it gets to him but how could it not at times?
When I return for Saturday’s game, I land tickets in the same section as Friday night. Andrew isn’t there but neither is the lone Braun heckler. Instead, the entire right field pavilion is giving him grief. When Braun roams right field a plethora of “Boos” and chants of “Steroids” fill the air. When Matt Kemp comes out for the top half of the innings there are calls of “MVP”.
It all culminates during Braun’s at bat against Clayton Kershaw in the top of the third inning. I re-watched the at bat Sunday morning on the FSW feed. It’s barely audible on the Brewers’ broadcast but chants of “Cheater” started and steadily grew louder during the first two pitches. From where I sat, it was the loudest the stadium had been so far that game. Something a single voice could not counteract no matter how hard it tried. Luckily, one didn’t have to.
On the field, Carlos Gomez dancing off second base drew Kershaw’s attention away from Braun. As the game slowed, the “Cheater” chant faded. Two pitches later, Braun drove a ball to right center field, just over Matt Kemp’s glove, for a two-run home run. Without Andrew around, it was the perfect way to silence the Dodger faithful.
Yet, as I marked Braun’s home run in my scorecard, I couldn’t help honor Andrew, “You’re my boy, Braun!”