ST. LOUIS -- You never know how players, even the best ones, will respond to the pressures of the postseason.
But Ryan Braun's father swears he did. He knew it the moment he watched his son play his first high school game.
Joe Braun can recount that game to almost every exact detail. At that point, the younger Braun was a freshman at Granada Hills Charter High School in California, who was expected to be on the junior-varsity team. Then, on opening day, the varsity second baseman showed up late to a meeting, and all of a sudden, the young, inexperienced Braun was plucked out of his fifth-period class and told he'd be the one starting the season opener.
Braun's response? First at-bat: Single. Second at-bat: Two-run homer. Third at-bat: Double off the wall.
That day, a tall, imposing senior by the name of Kameron Loe -- you know, the current Brewers' reliever -- was the starting pitcher for Granada Hills and attracted an assortment of scouts from across the country.
But their attention soon shifted elsewhere.
"He was the only kid in the game who didn't have his name on his back," Joe Braun said of his son, "and all the scouts were like, 'Who is this guy?'"
Nobody's wondering that now, of course. Coming off a season that could earn him the National League's Most Valuable Player Award -- thanks to a .332 batting average, 33 homers, 111 RBIs and 33 steals -- the Brewers' left fielder has found an even higher gear this postseason.
Ryan Braun batted .500 with two homers, eight RBIs, six doubles and seven runs, while hitting safely in six of Milwaukee's first seven playoff games. He went 4-for-8 with a homer and four RBIs in the first two games of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals, which is tied, with the next three games -- beginning with Wednesday night's Game 3 -- shifting to St. Louis. And he seems to step up every time the Brewers need him.
"Nothing surprises me that he does," Joe Braun said. "Is he at the top of his game right now? If you ask him, he'll say he's nowhere near; he can do a lot more things. That's how he feels. But that's what drives him to be successful. It's really important to him. So, no matter how much success he might be having, he feels like he's got more in there, that he can be better."
The senior Braun has been able to take this in from up close. He lives in California -- about 25 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and in the same city where Ryan grew up -- but he's made it a point to be in the stands for every one of his son's thrilling postseason games. Joined by his wife, Diane Braun, and his younger son, Steve Braun, Joe Braun has traveled to Milwaukee and Arizona, and he'll be at Busch Stadium on Wednesday to take in whatever happens next.
"I think he's probably been more influential in my career than anybody else, just in how supportive he's been, how much he's encouraged me and how much he's taught me," Ryan Braun said of his father. "He never played the game, didn't play any sports or anything like that growing up. But he was just an amazing father. I truly appreciate his support, and it's cool that he's able to experience this with me."
Joe Braun surmises he's been able to watch 50 Brewers games in person this year, which for him represents an all-time high. Like in every job, the time off the elder Braun gets is dependent on his boss.
In this case, that's his older son.
Joe Braun calls himself "semiretired," but he helps run various things around his son's life -- from charity work to the Limelite Fusion Energy Drink he endorses to paying bills. The father even throws his son left-handed batting practice in the offseason.
What kind of boss is Ryan Braun?
"He can be tough at times," Joe said. "[He] wants to know, 'Hey, what was this check you wrote for?' He keeps a good eye on me."
Joe Braun was only half-joking there. He knows how intense his son is about baseball and everything that surrounds it. He caught a glimpse of that after the Brewers won Game 5 of the NL Division Series over the D-backs on Friday, a game that saw Ryan Braun go 2-for-3 with a double and a walk.
Ryan Braun brought his father in to join him in the celebration and to show him around Miller Park. Then, barely two hours after his team had won an extra-inning game to close out a series that was pushed to the absolute limit, Ryan -- still dressed in his uniform and reeking of champagne -- plopped down on a chair and began analyzing video of all of his at-bats from the game, from the series and from September.
"That's his dedication," said Joe Braun, who also got to celebrate with the Brewers when his son's Sept. 23 homer clinched the division. "He's still watching his at-bats, watching the pitchers. That's not surprising. That's just what he does. He studies the game. He's real into all of that, and it's important to him. Good at-bat or not, he still watches that, trying to pick something out. Maybe there's something that gives him that extra edge. He's always looking for that."
Joe coached both his sons every year they were able to play Little League together -- Steve Braun, who was an infielder at the University of Maryland, retired prematurely in 2010 due to vision problems. The two boys also loved soccer, and Joe Braun believes his sons were better soccer players than baseball players by the time they get to high school.
Then everything changed.
And for Ryan Braun, it changed during his first varsity game.
Loe, now in his second year with the Brewers and his seventh year in the Majors, doesn't remember much about how he pitched in that game. But he knows he got the win, and he clearly remembers the impact of a scrawny freshman who wasn't even supposed to be there.
Even though an age gap didn't allow them to get close then, Loe remembers a little something about Braun's personality, too.
"At that age, when I knew him, he acted older than a freshman," Loe said. "He always had a little more maturity than that."
This postseason, the 27-year-old left fielder is displaying that on a much grander stage.
"He wants to be in that moment," Joe Braun said. "He realizes that you're not always going to be successful. But you want that opportunity to be that person and help your team win that game, or keep the game going, or get you into the postseason. He always has lived for those moments."