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Brauns spent Father's Days on the field

Brauns spent Father's Days on the field

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MILWAUKEE -- For the Brauns, Father's Day and baseball always seemed to go together.

Joe Braun was convinced to coach his eldest son Ryan's tee-ball team when Ryan was 4 1/2 years old. Technically, Ryan was too young to take part, but league officials agreed to bend the rules if Ryan's father would volunteer his time.

Joe agreed, and he continued coaching both of his sons through their youth baseball careers.

"At the time of year Father's Day came up, it was typically baseball season, and [Ryan] was usually on an all-star team," Joe said. "Father's Day was always spent somewhere on a baseball field playing a game."

Ryan is still playing the game, though these days he gets paid a lot of money to do so. The Brewers' top Draft pick in 2005 and the '07 National League Rookie of the Year signed a seven-year contract extension last month.

Joe was there when the deal was announced in Milwaukee. He called the day "fantastic" and "unbelievable."

"Really, the past few years have been those things," said Joe, who works in Los Angeles for an insurance company. "The past year especially. It's been phenomenal. For all of it to happen in such a short period of time, it's hard to put it into words.

"To me, it's still Ryan. It's my kid, even though he's an adult. He's still playing the game of baseball, even though it's on a bigger stage and there's a business side to it now. I still keep it in a really small perspective, that it's my kid playing baseball."

Ryan's baseball roots date back to that tee-ball team with his dad at the helm. Joe, who was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old, did not have any formal baseball experience.

But he loved the game and wanted to spend as much time as possible with Ryan and his younger son, Steve.

"It was just a lot of fun," Ryan said. "I think at that age you take a lot of things for granted, but looking back on it now it was a really special experience to have him there. I'll cherish that forever."

That baseball league produced some talented players in a variety of sports. The baseball alumni include current Major League pitchers Jon Garland and Jack Cassell, the latter an Astros reliever who surrendered a homer run to Braun on June 1. Cassell's brother, Matt, also played in the league -- now he's the backup to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Jason and Jarron Collins, who are in the NBA, also played.

Braun recently became the second-fastest player in Major League history to hit his 50th home run (Mark McGwire hit his 50th in his 161st game, nine games quicker than Braun). But as a kid, Braun was never a home run hitter. He didn't hit his first until Memorial Day weekend when he was 13 years old, according to Joe. Braun was a gap hitter and a speed guy.

"Then he had a little bit of a growth spurt at 13, 14, and that's when the power came," Joe said. "It was almost like it happened overnight. All of a sudden scouts were watching him when he was a freshman in high school saying, 'That kid is a power hitter.'"

Credit Joe Braun, a left-handed thrower who pitched batting practice to both of his kids, for Ryan's success as a rookie against left-handers. Braun hit southpaws at a .450 clip in 2007.

"Maybe I need to do it a little more this season to get his left-handed numbers up," Joe Braun said. "But I definitely think it helped him develop a comfort level. Both of my boys are real comfortable because that's what they saw from me every day."

Back then, Joe Braun never expected to be watching his son sign a $45 million contract in his second Major League season.

"I think it's going to be one of those things that you realize over time, what a big deal it is," Joe Braun said. "If we were able to sit down at the beginning and script out Ryan's career, I don't think we could have imagined it to happen like this."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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