MILWAUKEE -- If every cheesehead in Wisconsin -- all 5.6 million residents -- had cast an All-Star Game vote for Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, they still could not have accounted for his record-setting total.Braun's final tally was 5,928,004 votes, tops among all National League players this season and in any season before, and nearly 10 times the population of the city of Milwaukee. Braun broke the NL balloting record set by Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols in 2009. "It's surprising, it's exciting, it's humbling, it's a lot of things," Braun said. It's either a sign that Wisconsinites took the "vote 25 times per day" mantra seriously, or that Braun was drawing on the sort of national appeal usually reserved for pro athletes up north in Green Bay. It's probably both. "He's a superstar," said teammate Prince Fielder. So is Fielder, which is why he ranked second of all NL players with more than 4.8 million votes, surging past fellow first basemen Pujols and Joey Votto -- the last two NL Most Valuable Player Award winners -- for starting honors. Rickie Weeks won the balloting at second base, giving the Brewers three All-Star Game starters for the first time. For the 27-year-old Braun, it's business as usual, even though he has been sidelined with a strained left calf. This will be his fourth consecutive fan-elected start in the Midsummer Classic, the first NL outfielder so honored since Barry Bonds was elected to make five straight starts from 2000-04. Braun has said that if he doesn't play leading up to the All-Star Game, he will not play on Tuesday at Chase Field in Phoenix. If you think a player from little Milwaukee, Major League Baseball's smallest media market, cannot have a big-time national profile, think again.
"There's no question that the city of Milwaukee has embraced him -- you could argue that they are the best fans in the league, judging by the way they supported Ryan and Rickie and Prince," said Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, Braun's longtime agent. "But for Ryan to lead the National League in votes, it's more than just the support of local fans. I think it shows people around the country recognize what he brings to the table."CAA Sports represents the likes of Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, David Beckham, Sidney Crosby, Jimmie Johnson and Shaun White. The agency has helped Braun build an off-the-field portfolio that includes a clothing line (Remetee), a fusion energy drink (Limelite), two Wisconsin restaurants and a line of wood bats bearing Braun's initials and uniform No. 8. Those business endeavors are in addition to Braun's endorsements, including national deals with AirTran Airways and Muscle Milk. But the primary focus has not changed, Balelo said. Braun is a baseball player first, and everything else comes second. "Ryan has figured out how to balance his social life, his business life and his day job," Balelo said. "It takes a special person to be able to do those things, and he seems to be able to accomplish that. "There's no question that the game takes precedence over everything, because if you're not performing on the field, the votes go away, the popularity goes away, the business opportunities go away." Since the day he debuted for the Brewers with a two-run double in San Diego, Braun has been sensational. He won the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award as a third baseman, shifted to left field the next season and is a .309 hitter with 144 home runs and 482 RBIs in his first 662 games. He has finished in the top 15 in NL MVP Award balloting after each of his three full seasons. He has won three Silver Slugger Awards. He is one of five players in history to hit at least 125 homers with a .300 average over his first four seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio, Chuck Klein, Pujols and Ted Williams. He hit one of the biggest home runs in Milwaukee baseball history, a go-ahead blast in the final regular-season game in '08 for a win that pushed the Brewers to the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Along the way, Braun has maintained his style. If you're a Cardinals fan, you probably see it as arrogance. If you're a Brewers fan, Braun has swagger. "I think it's awesome that he's confident," said Fielder, who plays with some swagger of his own. "He's not a jerk, by any means. I think it's awesome when you know how to be confident without coming off as arrogant. He's confident in what he does, and he should be. "Brauny has done nothing but play hard since he came into the league, and he's made himself a superstar. I'm very proud of him and how well he's done for himself." The statistical achievements have added up. In 2008, Braun signed a seven-year, $45 million contract extension that set a record for a player with less than one year of Major League service. Then, this April, he inked another extension on top of the one already in place, a megadeal that runs through at least 2020, pays another $105 million and positions Braun to be this generation of Milwaukee fans' Robin Yount. Yount played all 20 of his Hall of Fame seasons in a Brewers uniform. "I think people look at what he did with his contract situation and I think it's so rare in today's game, that I think it meant a lot to the fans," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "To see a guy that maybe could go somewhere else, maybe get more money; I don't know, but I think they see the loyalty from a guy who wants to be in a place and I think fans all want that from baseball players. I think they really want that." "It happened with Robin, when the fans see a guy committed [to one team] like that, they're going to put a lot of votes in," said former Brewers infielder Jim Gantner. "And Braun deserves it." It probably goes both ways. An argument can be made that Braun, the Southern California kid who played at the University of Miami before finding a home in Milwaukee, has influenced the Brewers' building project as much off the field as on it. The team's relative success over the past five seasons has helped general manager Doug Melvin score more wins in his longtime battle convincing free agents and trade targets that Milwaukee is an attractive place to play. It helped convince Zack Greinke to waive his no-trade clause in December after declining a deal to Washington. With more wins come larger crowds and more television time, and with those factors come more All-Star votes. With more votes come three All-Star starters. "It kind of means the Milwaukee Brewers have arrived on the national scene," Braun said. "It's special for all of us to go there together and represent the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee. Ultimately, it's a reward for having a good half as a team."