PHOENIX -- If Ryan Braun needed a reminder of how far he has come in just two years, a Brewers fan offered some photographic evidence.

Braun had just played his final tune-up before leaving to man left field for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic when he stopped to sign a few autographs on Saturday. An 8x10 photo sticking through the fence caught his eye.

"It was me from my first big league Spring Training," Braun said with a smile, "and I was No. 75."

With apologies to Brewers swingman Seth McClung -- No. 73 -- double-digit numbers that start with seven are usually reserved for Minor League prospects likely to remain that way for at least another year. And that was precisely the idea in 2007, when Braun, less than two years after he was selected fifth overall in the 2005 Draft, wore No. 75 for his first big league camp.

Braun had other ideas. By May, he was wearing No. 8 in the big leagues, and he was there to stay.

"That was only two years ago, but it feels a lot longer than that," Braun said. "It's kind of incredible, looking back and reflecting on where I was then and what I've accomplished in such a short period of time."

Some numerical evidence: Braun, 25, is a .301 hitter with 71 home runs and 203 RBIs over 10 months in the big leagues. He's the second player in Major League history -- Albert Pujols is the other -- to belt 30 home runs in each of his first two seasons. Braun's 71 homers ties him with Pujols for the fourth-highest total through a player's first two years, trailing only Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio (75), Ralph Kiner (74) and Eddie Matthews (72).

Braun was the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year despite spending the first seven weeks of the season at Triple-A Nashville. He followed that up in 2008 by leading the Brewers with 37 homers and 106 RBIs despite a bad back that cut short his swing through much of August and September. Braun finished third in NL MVP balloting and was voted to start the 2008 All-Star Game.


"I know how hard this game is and what kind of challenges are ahead of me. I'm going to deal with that by working harder, because I don't think I've been even close to the kind of baseball player I can be."
-- Ryan Braun

Now he's poised to start for Team USA in the Classic. The U.S. tournament opener is Saturday in Toronto against the host Canadians.

"I don't think I ever anticipated this much, this fast," Braun said. "I recognize that when you are at this level a lot of people put you on a pedestal, and they want a piece of you. I think I've handled it well."

Braun fittingly grew up a few miles up the 405 freeway from downtown Los Angeles, and he has made the most of his sudden celebrity. He worked all offseason on a line of high-end T-shirts under the brand Remetee that go for $75 and up. He's filmed a commercial with Sports Illustrated cover girl Marisa Miller, inked an endorsement deal with an airline and is working on his own line of aluminum bats.

It's not all business. Braun attended a Hanukah dinner at the White House last year and talked baseball with President George W. Bush, and he attended the past two Grammy Awards in L.A. He will appear Thursday night with some U.S. teammates on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote the Classic.

New Brewers manager Ken Macha has learned quickly that Braun brings a touch of Hollywood to the Brewers.

"He was asking me what my favorite restaurants were around Phoenix," Macha said. "But I go to the bars and have bar food, so I was, like, scuffling to give him an answer. I had to tell him the restaurants that Doug's [general manager Doug Melvin's] wife recommended."

Braun hosted a film premiere in Milwaukee last summer and almost got deeper into the movie biz this winter. He was offered a bit part in a picture that was originally written for former NBA player Rick Fox.

Braun turned that opportunity down "because there was just too much going on." Every now and then, he reminds himself, baseball is paramount.

"Every opportunity I have is ultimately the result of the success I have on the baseball field," Braun said. "I've always kept that in mind, made sure that stays as my No. 1 priority and my focus. That will never change.

"But when you work hard and have success on the field, I think you should have a chance to enjoy some of those other things. I've had some unbelievable opportunities, and I'm proud of the way I have handled myself and the way I've stayed out of trouble. My parents raised me the right way, and I think that's a big part of it."

Braun's dad, Joe, was born in Tel Aviv and moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old, and Ryan's mom, Diane, to the horror of Brewers fans everywhere -- or at least in Wisconsin -- is a brewer for Budweiser. He also has a younger brother, Steve, an infielder who went undrafted out of the University of Maryland last summer and signed with the Brewers.

The family remains very close. Joe and Steve Braun were on the field when the Brewers celebrated their regular-season-ending win over the Cubs last September. Ryan Braun's two-run homer in the eighth inning and CC Sabathia's brilliant pitching performance propelled the Brewers to the NL Wild Card and their first postseason appearance since 1982, the year before Braun was born.

"That's something he started doing in high school, and he just continues to do it," Joe Braun said of his son's clutch home run. "Some of our friends always say that nothing surprises them when the moment is right and he steps up there and makes something happen. I hope he continues to do it."

Braun said he models himself after Classic teammate Derek Jeter, a fellow Creative Artists Agency client who was at the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, when Jeter was playing for the American League and Braun represented the U.S. in the Futures Game.

"He's somebody I really look up to as a person," Braun said. "He's a winner, first and foremost, and he's handled the 'celebrity' aspect of everything as well as anybody in sports. It's unbelievable the pressure and the scrutiny he's under being the guy in New York, and I think he's handled it so well."

Braun hopes he's on the same path.

"I know how hard this game is and what kind of challenges are ahead of me," he said. "I'm going to deal with that by working harder, because I don't think I've been even close to the kind of baseball player I can be."