Shortstop Ryan Braun’s first season with the Hurricanes was an overwhelming success, but that has not stopped the sophomore from working tirelessly during the off-season to improve.
As a true freshman in 2003, Braun led the ‘Canes in six offensive categories, including batting average (.364), home runs (17), and runs batted in (76). The Granada Hills, California native was named National Freshman of the Year by Baseball America.
This season, with the Hurricanes expected to contend for the College World Series title, there is immense pressure on Braun to be one of the nation’s top hitters.
“He had a great year and he is our leading hitter offensively right now,” Head Coach Jim Morris said. “He can steal 20 bases and we all know he has a great chance to hit 20 home runs.”
Braun said he has not been affected by the national attention he has received.
“There are lofty expectations but at the same time, I don’t think there is any added pressure,” Braun said. “The ranking at the beginning of the year doesn’t mean anything; it is where you are at the end of the year that matters.”
Despite Braun’s superior offensive output last year, he was not satisfied with other aspects of his game, and he has focused most of his off-season training to becoming an all-around superstar.
“I’ve gotten much faster than I was last year, so more bunting and steals should help me,” he said. “I’ve also gotten better defensively than I was last year.”
Braun’s success has even caught the eye of Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who has reached out to Braun and offered advice.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for A-Rod; he is around here all the time, so I have had chances to talk to him and had a chance to watch his work habits,” Braun said.
While at Granada Hills High School, Braun won the team’s Most Valuable Player Award three times, breaking the school record for career home runs with 25. As a senior Braun was rated the sixth-best shortstop prospect in the entire country by Team One Baseball.
Braun made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll during the fall semester last year, priding himself on maintaining strong marks in the classroom while managing an extremely busy schedule. Although Braun is constantly earning rewards and praise for his prowess on the diamond, he continues to be a grounded and amiable person off the field.
“I am outgoing; I am very personable, and I am a people person,” Braun said. “I love interacting with people and doing pretty much anything with people.”
This upcoming season will be the Hurricanes’ last before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. Although the ‘Canes will be forced to play a tougher regular season schedule, Braun sees only positives in the move to the ACC.
“The ACC will be an advantage; the better competition we play, the easier it will be to adjust to the post season play,” he said.
The Hurricanes are ranked near the top of every preseason poll and will be favored to win almost every series they play this season. However, Braun is firm in believing that the veterans on the roster will make sure the ‘Canes aren’t cocky about their preseason accolades.
“I don’t think this team is overconfident,” he said. “We have not done anything yet on the field. Our ranking just shows we have the potential to have a good season.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at email@example.com.