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02/26/10 10:48 AM EST

New year, new state of mind for Braun

Star left fielder ready to take his game to the next level

PHOENIX -- The always interesting Ryan Braun arrived in Brewers camp quoting Jay-Z, taking a literary stroll with Henry David Thoreau and saying he believes he's on the verge of baseball greatness.

Brewers position players aren't even required to be at Maryvale Baseball Park until Saturday, but Braun, as usual, is already making it interesting.

Position analysis
Third base
Second base
Left field
Center field
Right field

"I'm really in the moment right now," Braun said after taking some swings on Thursday afternoon. "I have a lot going on between the baseball stuff and my off-field ventures, and I've learned to live in the moment. The quote I've heard is, 'Be where you are when you're there.'"

He heard that one as a young man and it stuck with him. It's one of a myriad of what Braun called "life theories" that he's been batting around. One came from none other than Mr. Beyonce Knowles, the rapper Jay-Z.

"I've been quoting Jay-Z a lot lately," Braun said. "He's the ultimate self-made man, and he's the ultimate self-promoter. He's all positive. He said, 'The truth needs no explanation.' I think that's deep."

Sorry, we need an explanation.

"I think it talks about the significance of being honest with yourself," Braun said. "Don't worry about anyone else. As it applies to baseball, if you're honest with yourself about the work ethic you put forth every day, you won't even have to explain to anybody why things didn't go as well as you wanted to."

Mind you, this is a 26-year-old for whom things have almost always gone spectacularly well. He excelled in three sports (baseball, soccer, basketball) at Granada Hills (Calif.) High School, then was an All-American at the University of Miami before the Brewers took him fifth overall in the ridiculously talent-rich 2005 First-Year Player Draft, one pick after the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman and two before the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki.

Two years later, in 2007, Braun was the National League Rookie of the Year. In 2008, he started his first All-Star Game and hit the go-ahead home run on the final day of the regular season to propel the Brewers to their first postseason appearance since 1982, a year before he was born. In 2009, he was an All-Star starter again and led the NL in hits while batting .320 with 32 home runs and a career-high 114 RBIs.

"For three years I've been good, but I really believe I have a chance to be great," he said. "I don't know how you define greatness, but when I have a great year, I'll know. Hopefully, it's this year."

All of that success might go to his head, if only his head were not filled with so much other stuff. He said he spent the offseason reading Henry David Thoreau -- "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." -- and Maya Angelou, among others. He also stayed busy three or four days a week at the Los Angeles offices of Remetee, the clothing manufacturer he helped found in 2008.

Remetee's signature bright T-shirts were ubiquitous in the Brewers clubhouse last season. This year, they might be tougher to spot.

"The new stuff is really cool," Braun said. "We've cleaned it up a little bit. The old stuff was a little busy, so we've kind of toned it down. It's doing really well. We survived the toughest year in retail in the last 20 years, and we did pretty well. It's a tribute to the importance of surrounding yourself with successful people."

He's been busy filming commercials -- a Nike spot with Ken Griffey Jr. and Torii Hunter just debuted, and another national spot for Muscle Milk will air during March Madness -- and Braun's newest endeavor is the restaurant business. While progress has been slow at a Lake Geneva, Wis., location to be called "Ryan Braun's Tavern and Grill," Braun and his investors are very close to announcing another venture much closer to the Brewers' home base. Stay tuned for that.

Homers in first three MLB seasons
HRs Player Team
114 Ralph Kiner* PIT
114 Albert Pujols STL
112 Eddie Mathews* MIL
107 Joe DiMaggio* NYY
107 Mark Teixeira TEX
103 Ryan Braun MIL
* Hall of Famer
It's all moving very quickly, which brings Braun to quoting again: "You have to work fast. Life's not going to wait for you."

Just don't go too fast.

"I don't think it's necessarily the entities that present themselves that can make things complicated, it's the number of people associated with them that can be problematic," said Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman, who has seen teammates bogged down by off-the-field pursuits. "You have to manage. You have to really prioritize your space at the field in order for it to work. I've seen where it can get a little out of whack."

Braun has heard these concerns. He assures everyone that he knows baseball is No. 1.

"But at the same time, I recognize that there is a small window for these other things to be a priority, too," he said. "At some point I'll probably be married and have kids and I'll no longer be as involved as I am now.

Marriage and kids will wait for now, and that's one area in which Braun declines to expound. Braun is friends with the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and said with a chuckle that he knows Kemp's famous girlfriend, Rihanna, "a little bit," but won't say whether he has a rock star girlfriend of his own.

"Baseball provides me with the avenue to do all of these other things and I understand how important that is," Braun said. "I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can for as long as I'm in this game to be the best player I can be. I think I have a chance to be great, but I'm not there yet and I'm working hard to get there.

"I'm in an amazing place. I feel great. I feel like baseball has given me this opportunity to be a positive influence on other peoples' lives, and when it comes down to it that's what life is all about. Be happy. I'm happy right now."

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