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2003 Baseball America
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Braun
by John Manuel
OMAHA--Some of the names on Miami's freshman records list are known to fans of college and major league baseball alike.
Pat Burrell has the mark for most total bases. Charles Johnson holds the mark for triples. Kevin Howard, Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2000, holds the record for doubles.
Now those storied names need to make way for perhaps the best freshman season in Miami history. Shortstop Ryan Braun, out of Granada Hills (Calif.) High, led a young Hurricanes team that had only one player drafted back to the College World Series, carrying the team at the plate while taking over shortstop duties midway through the season. For his efforts, he joined Burrell and Howard as 'Canes who have won Baseball America's Freshman of the Year Award.
"Ryan Braun has hit in the three-hole for us and played shortstop for us the second half of the year, and that's a big reason why we have gotten hot in the second half," Miami coach Jim Morris said. "You break a Pat Burrell record, you've done something right."
Braun entered the CWS hitting .374-17-74, leading the Hurricanes in the triple crown categories. His 74 RBIs tie him for sixth all-time on Miami's single-season list and better the freshman record Burrell set with 67 in 1996, when he led the nation in batting at .484.
Like Burrell, Braun turned it up in the postseason, getting his most important RBIs of the year in the super-regional against North Carolina State. Braun slammed a three-run homer in the first inning of the first game, then won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth off Wolfpack closer (and fellow Freshman All-American) Joey Devine.
It was the 12th game-winning hit of the season for Braun, and the third walk-off homer, capping a comeback from a 9-3 deficit. Miami won the next day for its eighth trip to Omaha in 10 years.
"I definitely pride myself in that, doing well in pressure situations," Braun said. "I'm confident in myself as a hitter and look forward to hitting in those situations."
At one time this season, hitting was all Braun had to look forward to. After choosing Miami over Stanford and coming East like Burrell and Howard had, Braun didn't have a tremendous fall, according to Morris. Sophomore Paco Figueroa, who had started as a freshman, beat Braun out for the shortstop job, and Braun settled in as the DH with occasional cameos at second and third base.
"It was extremely challenging being the DH," Braun said. "There was nothing to take your mind off of it if you had a bad at-bat, and it was completely different from playing in the field. After a while I got adjusted, and I was glad I at least had a chance to contribute and help the team win."
He did that regularly at the plate, and when given a chance to do so with the glove, Braun was ready. He took over the shortstop job with 20 games left in the regular season and shined with the glove since taking over as the starter.
"As the DH, I just wanted to get in the lineup," Braun said. "When I got the chance to be the shortstop, I wanted to make sure I took pride in my defensive skills and made the most of the opportunity."
So not only has Braun joined luminaries like Burrell in Miami lore, but he's also priming himself to join the long line of top shortstops that Morris has coached, which stretches back to Nomar Garciaparra at Georgia Tech. Miami's shortstop legacy indirectly includes Alex Rodriguez, who nearly came to school before signing as the No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft and who has donated $4 million toward construction at Mark Light Field, which will be transformed into Alex Rodriguez Stadium by 2005. Braun's 6-foot-2, 187-pound frame evokes comparisons to the bigger shortstops starring in the big leagues.
"He looks like a Nomar or A-Rod physically," Morris said. "I'm not going to put those kinds of comparisons on him, but he's been a special player for us."