MILWAUKEE -- The ovations grew louder with each of Ryan Braun's four trips to the batter's box on Sunday at Miller Park, culminating with a long cheer in the eighth inning that drew a ceremonial tip of the cap from the six-time All-Star. Braun struck out to end the inning.
When the clubhouse doors opened to reporters after the Brewers' home finale, Braun was there to acknowledge those swings may mark the end of an era.
"I think that people here, at least most of them, recognize there is at least a chance that today is my last home game as a Brewer," Braun said in the wake of a 4-2 loss to the Reds. "I don't think there is a great chance, but certainly a higher chance than at any point in the 10 years that I've spent here."
Braun, the former first-round Draft pick who broke in as the National League Rookie of the Year in 2007, won the NL MVP Award in 2011, batted third for the Brewers' only two postseason entries in the past 34 seasons and returned from a PED suspension to set the franchise home run record, has a contract through 2020 at a market-suitable rate. But the Brewers are just finishing the first full season of their full-blown rebuild, and Braun is their most valuable asset. That makes him a trade candidate.
The possibility of a trade became acute at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline and again on Aug. 31, when the Brewers were in serious talks with the Dodgers about a swap involving Braun and L.A. outfielder Yasiel Puig. The teams ran out of time before the midnight ET deadline to acquire players and have them eligible for postseason play.
Braun, batting .308 this season with 30 home runs and 90 RBIs, knows those talks could be reprised over the winter.
"Inevitably, those thoughts creep in," he said. "It wasn't the first time for me this year. Leading up to the Trade Deadline, I knew it was a possibility then. Leading up to the Aug. 31 deadline, I knew it was a possibility then. There were a couple of other times I took a couple extra minutes to reflect on everything and think about the journey.
"On a day like today, it's impossible not to think about it, at least a little bit. At the same time, you try to stay in the moment, try to stay focused. We're still trying to compete."
Braun tripled in the first inning and singled in the fourth. He popped out in the sixth with runners at second and third, then stepped to the plate in the eighth against Reds reliever Josh Smith to the loudest ovation of the afternoon.
With two outs, the bases empty and the Brewers trailing by two runs, Braun conceded the situation was a bit awkward. Still, he touched the brim of his batting helmet in appreciation.
"It was nice what the fans did and it shows we've got some pretty knowledgeable fans, for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I also think Ryan's at that point where he's been here nine years. He's the best player we have here and they're thanking him for the season, as well. That was as much of it as anything."
Braun will be busy in the coming months. His wife, Larisa, gave birth to the couple's second child, a boy they named Greyson Joseph, on Monday. Their daughter Celine just turned two.
At the same time, Braun will be kept apprised of the Brewers' trade talks.
"The fact that it came that close to happening makes it feel that much more real," Braun said. "For all of us, we understand the business side of what we do. Anybody can be moved at any time. Obviously, that's the closest I've ever come to being traded, and it was an eye-opening experience. It made the last couple of months for me a little bit more enjoyable, just to make sure I did take the time to reflect on everything, and really enjoy the couple of months here in case they are my last."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.