- Associated Press - Saturday, September 24, 2011

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Prince Fielder sprinted back and forth from dugout to dugout, trying to get to every single fan.

More than an hour after the Milwaukee Brewers clinched their first division title in 29 years, one of the biggest free-agents-to-be remained a very in-demand commodity for a city that’s unconditionally loved its homegrown star.

This season was built for him as chants of “We want Prince” continued. Now, he gets a chance to take Milwaukee to a point much farther than his first postseason appearance in 2008.

“We’ve got a great team, the fans are with us all here,” said Fielder, who believed he’d be traded last season and received a standing ovation on the final day last season. “I’m just glad we’re able to do it, we’ve got a little ways to go, but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this. Hopefully, we go all the way.”

Fielder homered to start the scoring and Ryan Braun hit a three-run, go-ahead shot in the eighth to lift the Brewers over the Florida Marlins 4-1 on Friday night to win the NL Central.

Braun homered to end a 1-for-16 skid amid chants of “M-V-P.” He then pointed his bat in the air toward owner Mark Attanasio and the fans before rounding the bases.

Ryan loves the big stage,” Attanasio said.

Braun said he expected to have a black eye after Nyjer Morgan hit him with an errant elbow during the celebration at home plate.

“I think for me, honestly, I live for that moment. You play the game to have the opportunity to play meaningful games down the stretch in September,” Braun said. “I truly expected to come through in that situation.”

Milwaukee won its first division title since capturing the AL East in 1982. The Brewers reached the World Series that year, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

They believe they’re built for a similar run.

General manager Doug Melvin said his goal coming into the season was to drop confetti from the Miller Park roof again. In the offseason, he decided to keep Fielder and built the starting rotation by trading away his farm system’s top talent.

In the span of two weeks in December, Melvin dealt his starting shortstop, backup center fielder, top pitching prospect, top hitting prospect and two pitchers who projected to be no worse than major league relievers.

The returns included 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Melvin said the Brewers were all-in _ the way they were in 2008 when they traded for CC Sabathia midseason.

The gamble paid off again, but it took longer than expected for rookie manager Ron Roenicke.

Milwaukee remained in third place behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis on July 25. Milwaukee then won 27 of 32 to take a 10 1/2-game lead in the division.

Braun homered on the last day of the season in 2008 to lift the Brewers to the postseason. That day, they waited about 20 minutes for the Florida Marlins to beat the New York Mets.

“It’s eerily similar,” said Braun, who signed a $105 million extension this season that keeps him in Milwaukee through 2020. “Having the opportunity to watch the last couple of innings of somebody else’s game feels almost identical.

“Obviously a little better, though, because we won our division instead of the wild card,” he said.

The stadium has remained packed even though this season hasn’t been as dramatic as ‘08. Milwaukee built a 10 1/2-game lead midway through August over St. Louis, and even though the Cardinals whittled it down, time ran out.

“It wasn’t as bad because it wasn’t the last day,” Fielder said. “It was a little easier.”

The Brewers are 53-23 at Miller Park, one win away from tying the most home wins in franchise history.

“It’s been an amazing two and a half months. We’re working so hard, battling day in and day out. We played so many close games,” reliever Francisco Rodriguez said. “Now, we have to go harder.”

The real party was just about to start as a crowd of 44,584 fans watched the final outs of the Cubs-Cardinals game on the scoreboard.

“Hopefully, there’s many more celebrations ahead but this is one that we’ll all cherish, we’ll all embrace and we’ll all recognize how rare this is,” Braun said. “It’s not easy to do.”

Milwaukee has made three previous trips to the playoffs, but never was assured a spot until either the next-to-last or final day of the season.

Milwaukee joined the NL in 1998 and watched St. Louis win seven division titles while the Brewers remained mostly at the bottom of the heap.

Things began changing when Attanasio, an L.A. investment banker, purchased the Brewers in September 2004 from Commissioner Bud Selig’s family and steadily raised the payroll, up to more than $85 million to start this season.

The homegrown talent has made a big difference, too, with Hart, Braun, Fielder, Gallardo, Weeks and catcher Jonathan Lucroy all part of the core group.

“For all of us to come through in a game like this,” Braun said, “it’s kind of fitting the way the season’s gone for us.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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