When Christian Yelich reached 10 years of service, the Milwaukee Brewers celebrated with a musical theme
By Jerry Crasnick
Only 6-7% of the 23,000-plus players who have appeared in a Major League Baseball game have reached 10 years of service, so the occasion typically calls for a celebration. Everyone gathers in the clubhouse, the manager and a veteran or two reflect on the honoree’s career, everyone applauds, and the modest ceremony concludes with some cake or a toast among friends.
When Christian Yelich reached 10 years in July, some friends with the Milwaukee Brewers thought a more expansive gesture was in order.
Yelich dabbles in the guitar and likes to attend concerts with teammates as a way to bond and unwind. Brewers players have gone on group outings to see Ed Sheeran and John Rzeznik, the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls, among others this season. Yelich also likes to collect signed guitars in exchange for signed bats. Over the past year, he’s added guitars from Rzeznik, George Strait, Morgan Wallen and Kenny Chesney to his collection.
Brewers traveling secretary Dan Larrea, the man entrusted with recognizing Yelich’s career milestone, thought a musical motif would best capture the occasion. He bought a black guitar and had the word “Ten’’ and the logos of Yelich’s two teams, the Brewers and Marlins, inscribed on the body. The entire team signed the guitar, and when the Brewers returned from the All-Star break, they found custom T-shirts hanging from their chairs in the visiting clubhouse in Cincinnati.
The shirts bear the words “CY 22” (Yelich’s initials and uniform number) in AC/DC style and have a concert tour vibe, with dates commemorating memorable milestones in Yelich’s career -- from his MLB debut to his participation in Team USA’s World Baseball Classic title to his 1,000th career game. They’re now a popular fashion item around the Brewers’ batting cage.
July 23, 2013. Went 2-for-4 for the Marlins in his major league debut against the Rockies at Coors Field.
June 10, 2014: Went 4-for-6 with 4 RBIs in an 8-5 win over Texas.
October 3, 2015: Achieved a Marlins franchise record 8 hits in a doubleheader sweep over the Phillies.
September 1, 2016: Homered, singled twice, drove in four runs, stole two bases and made a great catch in a 6-4 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
March 22, 2017: Won the World Baseball Classic with Team USA.
August 29, 2018: Went 6-for-6 against Cincinnati and hit for the cycle.
September 17, 2018: Hit for the cycle again against Cincinnati
August 17, 2019: Had five hits and two home runs in a win over Washington.
August 6, 2020: Had 4 walks and an inside the park home run in an 8-3 win over the White Sox.
May 31, 2021: Played in his 1,000th career game.
July 12, 2023: Reached 10 years of major league service.
“He’s a great guy, and he obviously means a lot to the organization,’’ Larrea said. “We wanted to do a little bit more than just a nice bottle of champagne.’’
All that sentiment reflects the Brewers’ admiration for a player who has brought reliability and professionalism to the clubhouse since his arrival in Milwaukee. After all the gift-giving and speechmaking, Yelich felt a wave of nostalgia and an appreciation for the perseverance required throughout his lengthy run.
“I remember going to games as a kid and wanting to play in the big leagues and thinking that would be a really cool thing,’’ Yelich said. “Even coming up in the minor leagues, there are a lot of times when the major leagues feel really far away. And then you get here, and there are a lot of ups and downs. There’s a lot of adversity.
“I’ve had a lot of really good nights in my career, and a lot of really long nights, too. The big thing is, you just keep going. You show up the next day, every day, and you just keep going. Then you look up and you’ve been doing it for 10 years.’’
At 31, Yelich still has the boyish looks of the hitting prodigy who was selected by the Marlins out of Westlake Village (Calif.) High with the 23rd pick in the 2010 draft. Baseball America compared him to six-time All-Star and career .300 hitter Will Clark for his smooth swing mechanics, and Yelich passed the test on the field by reaching the majors without spending a day in Triple-A ball. On July 23, 2013, Yelich and his buddy and minor league roommate, Jake Marisnick, went directly from Double-A Jacksonville to Coors Field and made their big league debuts. Yelich went 2-for-4 against the Rockies, and he was on his way.
He has produced a lot more T-shirt fodder through the years, with a resume that includes three Silver Slugger Awards, two All-Star Games, two batting titles, a Gold Glove, a National League MVP Award in 2018 and a second-place MVP finish the following year. In 2022, Yelich joined Trea Turner, Adrian Beltre, Babe Herman, Bob Meusel and John Reilly as the sixth player in history to hit for the cycle three times.
He entered the pop culture realm in 2019 with a cameo appearance on the TV series “Magnum P.I.,’’ wowing a team of Little League champions with his hitting prowess. “The opportunity presented itself in the offseason, and I figured, ‘Why not?’’’ he said. “I had a good time doing it, and I got to go to Hawaii for a week.’’
But as Yelich has learned, life in the majors isn’t all award ceremonies and Pacific island excursions. The Marlins grew closer through heartache in 2016 when Jose Fernandez, a charismatic young star and the starting pitcher in Yelich’s big league debut, died in a boating accident. They all got a lesson in the business side of baseball in late 2017 when ownership went in a new direction and traded away Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna and Yelich in a span of a few months.
Yelich, who had grown up in Southern California and spent his entire big league career in South Florida, had to adapt to a new home in Milwaukee. It didn’t take long. In his first year as a Brewer, he hit 36 homers, won a batting title and received 29 of 30 first-place votes in National League MVP balloting. Five years later, after navigating the numerous adjustments required in an analytically driven era, he ranks among the league’s top 10 in runs, stolen bases, hits, batting average and stolen bases.
Yelich still looks back with fondness on those early years in Miami, when he and his young teammates were learning on the fly in the majors. Casey McGehee and Reed Johnson were among the veteran players who eased the transition. And no player was more influential than Jeff Mathis, a veteran catcher who spread wisdom and encouragement throughout the clubhouse with six teams over 17 seasons.
Mathis’ name inevitably came up in conversation when Yelich and former Marlins teammate J.T. Realmuto connected during a recent Brewers-Phillies series.
“When we were rookies, Mathis kind of took us under his wing,’’ Yelich said. “I remember when he turned 30, we were 20 or 21 and I thought, ‘This dude is ancient. He’s been around the big leagues forever and he knows everything.’ Now when you’re 30 and you’ve got 10 years in yourself, you’re like, ‘That’s kind of weird, how fast that happens.’’’
This is how the story plays out: One day you’re new to the Show and each day at the ballpark is a new adventure. Then suddenly you look up, and everyone is standing in a circle toasting you for your achievements and longevity.
Veteran pitcher Wade Miley and Brewers manager Craig Counsell both spoke to the team during Yelich’s 10-year ceremony in Cincinnati. Miley celebrated his 10 years in 2021, and Counsell, a former 11th round draft pick, logged more than 14 years of major league service before retiring in 2011 at age 41.
“It’s just the rarity of it,’’ Counsell said. “We talked to the team about it. It’s everybody’s goal from the day they step into the big leagues. Then you look at the numbers and it shows you how hard it is.
“It’s all about what you go through in those 10 years. A lot of fun. A lot of struggles. A lot of ups and downs. It’s truly a journey that you’re glad you went on. I think Christian said it very well: ‘The thing you remember the most is the people you played with.’’’