MILWAUKEE -- But for one vocal heckler, Ryan Braun was greeted warmly by fans at the Brewers' annual convention and vowed to be "better than I've ever been" when he returns to the field from his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Sunday marked Braun's second public event since he was suspended in July for the remainder of the 2013 season. He previously made a surprise appearance at a charity event in November.
"There's no blueprint," Braun said. "There's no specific, 'This is how you deal with a situation like this.' Not a lot of people have been through something like this, so, certainly, [this is] a unique and challenging set of circumstances. But I've never been afraid of a challenge. I'm looking forward to everything the future holds."
Braun spoke with his trademark optimism about the Brewers' prospects for the coming season -- even before the team confirmed a four-year deal with free-agent pitcher Matt Garza. Braun declined to provide any more details about specifically what he took and when he took it, saying the written statement he released in August, when he admitted to using a cream and lozenges to recover from an undisclosed injury in 2011, would have to suffice. And he said that he has felt embraced in Milwaukee since his suspension, insisting he had only one "challenging conversation" with a fan while calling around last year to apologize to season-ticket holders.
"It wasn't surprising in any way," Braun said of that one tough talk. "I made a mistake; I made a big mistake. I don't expect everybody to be supportive or everybody to be understanding or everybody to understand where I was coming from. I certainly didn't anticipate the amount of support I received."
Hundreds of fans lined up for Braun's autograph when he signed in the afternoon, and hundreds more gathered around just to watch Braun sign. When he took the stage for a Hollywood Squares-style game show, Braun received a standing ovation.
But the warmth was not universal. According to The Associated Press, when Braun gave his first answer during the game show, one fan called out, "You know he's lying!"
Before a subsequent answer, Braun acknowledged the jab.
"As a fan so graciously pointed out, I've gotten in trouble in the past for not being completely forthcoming," Braun said.
"I wasn't up there to see what kind of reception he got," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, "but I think it's very important. It's important to him. He knows how much time and effort he put into building a relationship with the fans of this community that he wanted. He showed that by the contract that he was willing to sign to stay with this club. He wants to get it back to that. I don't think it'll happen overnight. I'm hoping this is a step, and as we go on, that they accept him as they used to."
Said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio: "As I said to everybody back when this all hit in July, this was going to be an ongoing process. So far, so good. But I think he's mindful, and I certainly continue to remind him that it's an ongoing process and he's going to continue to need to take the right kind of steps to have the kind of support in the community that he once enjoyed."
Attanasio, Roenicke and Braun all know that things will be different when the Brewers go on the road this season.
Braun suggested that he is looking forward to the jeers.
"[I] dealt with it in 2012, dealt with it for the majority of 2013, so I think I have an idea of what I'm getting myself into," Braun said. "As a competitor, in a really odd way, I enjoy it. I think it's fun. I think the more hostile an environment is, the more enjoyable it is. I just enjoy that pressure. In a really unique way, I actually enjoy and look forward to it."
Braun dealt with neck and hand injuries before he was suspended on July 22 for his ties to Biogenesis, the wellness clinic at the center of a Major League Baseball investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the game. Braun was the first player suspended for a connection to clinic founder Tony Bosch, who ultimately cooperated with MLB in a process that led to Alex Rodriguez being suspended for the entire 2014 season and postseason.
Braun declined to address the Rodriguez matter on Sunday, saying he had not been paying close enough attention to comment.
But the slugger reiterated what he said in November, that he wishes he could go back and change things.
"I've always taken tremendous pride in being a role model. I made a huge mistake. I've paid a great price for that mistake," said Braun. "The opportunities I've had to reach out to season-ticket holders, reach out to suite holders and interact with people, I let them know that, basically, I made a mistake. I deeply regret it. I wish I could change it. I recognize I don't have an opportunity to do that, so all I can do is focus on the present, focus on the future, look forward to this year and go out there and do the things that I've done in the past. Hopefully, [I can] be one of the best players in the game and show them that I learned from my mistake, that I've learned from it and that hopefully [I] have become a better person because of it."
Braun was asked whether he worried about his stats slipping without any "extra help."
"No," Braun said. "I think I'll be better than I've ever been. [I'm] very confident in that."