If you’ve ever spent a few hours with me, there’s a good chance that I’ve made something very apparent to you: it’s not easy to tell a story. Or, maybe it is, and I’m just really bad at it. For the sake of this though, let’s just assume that I’m competent and that such a task is actually difficult. As much of a stretch as it might be.
One of the complicating factors is that there’s a lot of ways to tell a story. You can read a book. Or listen to a podcast. Or watch a movie. You get it. Hell, even a pro wrestling match has a structure to telling a story. The point is, though they’re all very different, they all work in a very similar format.
Let’s take a movie for example. Storytelling in this format typically follows a three act structure. In the first act, we see an introduction to the story, in the second we see conflict and drama, and in the third we see a resolution to the story and hopefully the completion of a characters arc. A book typically functions the same way. An oral story is usually more free flowing, but it’s roughly the same. A wrestling match, though it has a few more steps than three, works the same way.
As we all know, life tends to work a little differently. But, it turns out we like story-telling, so we’ve lifted the phrase for someone’s follow up to their initial success. We call that a second act. Tony Romo, for example, found a fulfilling second act in the broadcast booth for CBS football after a successful tenure as the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Craig Counsell went from being the best player of his generation to being a manager of a team and a leader of men. LeBron James, with his move to LA, already has his eyes off of the court and on basically every other industry. I’m sure that you can think of a few great examples if you take a few minutes. Or I could save you the time and give the example I want to write about: former MVP for the Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun.
Braun’s career, perhaps more than any other player in the MLB outside of Bartolo Colon, is fantastical enough to make even the most ambitious screenwriter blush. In his first season in the majors, Braun won the rookie of the year and immediately became one of the league’s shining stars. In his next season, Braun would make the All Star team, win a silver slugger award, and lead the Brewers back to the playoffs for the first time in over 25 years. By the finish of the 2011 season, just his fifth in the league, he would win the National League MVP award backed by his fourth consecutive all star game appearance and silver slugger award. The Brewers, lead by Braun and a handful of other all stars, would come within two games of the World Series. His first act complete, he looked every bit the part of one of faces of the league.
Let me repeat what I said earlier one more time: life isn’t a movie. If it were, Braun would’ve taken his place as an all time great and rode off into the sunset to be enshrined in Cooperstown. But that isn’t what happened. If you’re even remotely into sports, you know what actually happened next. If you aren’t, prepare for a gut punch. Braun would immediately become embroiled in a scandal involving performance enhancing drugs. If that weren’t bad enough, his response, which included a very public attack on the courier who handled his sample, immediately made him one of the biggest pariahs in all of sports. He went from hero to villain faster than any star in recent memory and would be suspended for more than one hundred games in the 2013 season. Over the next few years, Braun would make one all star game, win no other awards, and see his all of his major statistical categories drop to below the league average. Rather than the face of the franchise, Braun’s contract was seen as a burden that most Brewers fans couldn’t wait to drop. The Brewers missed the playoffs every year.
If this were a movie, we’d be primed for a third act; and as it turns out the 2018 season would make the perfect back drop. The Brewers, lead by the new face of the organization and eventual MVP of the National League, Christian Yelich, would defy expectations and insert themselves squarely into the race for the central division pennant. The Cubs, with one of the highest payrolls in the league (and expectations to match it) and the Cardinals, perennially of the leagues premier teams, would find themselves looking up in the standings at the underdogs from Milwaukee for most of the season. In the final road series of the season, the Cardinals had a chance to leapfrog in the standings the Brewers and end their dream season.
If this were a movie, it would be the perfect time for the old hand to come back to life. Something amazing, almost unbelievable would happen. Sure enough, it did. Braun, who before the series would tell reporters he woke up feeling like a new man, who homer in his first at bat. He’d launch four total over the three game series, the Brewers would sweep the Cardinals, and the Crew would carry that momentum to the top of the National League central, winning the title from their rival Cubs in an extra game.
But, here’s your reminder that life isn’t a movie. In game seven of the National League Championship Series, the Crew would lose (heartbreakingly) and miss the world series by one game. The World Series would be played by two teams every hates, nobody cared, and everyone outside of Boston yawned. And before you ask, no, I’m not salty at all.
Braun, now 35, is now squarely in the third act of his playing career. His rise to hero, his descent into villainy, and his rebirth as a seasoned and respected veteran is now complete. He and the rest of the team will enter 2019 with high expectations; the state of Wisconsin will look to him to help lead the team to the tile they nearly grasped last year. The man who was persona non grata in Wisconsin years ago is back in the good graces of the public. He’ll be warmly cheered, and rightfully so, in the cream city this season all the way through to his retirement. The thought of trading him, which recently was all but assured, now seems insane. Like the rest of the greats, he deserves a heroes send off in the city where he made his name. Anything else would feel wrong.
Like most of my posts, there’s a lesson here for us. I’m just not entirely sure what that is. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to villainize. Maybe we should try to be a little more empathetic with the trials and tribulations that come from being put on a pedestal you never asked to be placed upon. Maybe we should be a little quicker to forgive. And maybe some of the people who end up taking in the scorn of the public should take a cue from how Braun handled his downfall: with a quiet dignity and with a lot of class. Let’s be clear – I’m not giving him a free pass for how he handled his situation (though I don’t give a shit about using steroids, but that’s another article), but I am saying that everyone makes mistakes, and it appears that Ryan Braun learned from his.
And, after his third act is finished, we’ll get to see what Ryan Braun has in store for us in his second act. Maybe he’ll end up in the booth like Romo. Or maybe he’ll follow his current skipper as a manager. Maybe he moves to LA and works with LeBron. Who knows? Life, unlike the twist ending in Us, is extremely unpredictable. Whatever he chooses, I’m betting he’s going to be very successful. I’m rooting for him. I think you should too.