Fan base boost­ing Yelich

Ser­bian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity cheers on MVP can­di­date

Baltimore Sun - - BASEBALL - By Ivan Moreno

MIL­WAU­KEE — When Brew­ers slug­ger Chris­tian Yelich took the field against the Dodgers, he had one group of Mil­wau­kee fans root­ing es­pe­cially loud for his suc­cess: Ser­bianAmer­i­cans.

The 26-year-old MVP can­di­date’s ban­ner year has earned him plenty of new fans, in­clud­ing Ser­bians who are just now be­com­ing aware of his her­itage. Yelich’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was Ser­bian.

“Ev­ery­body is se­ri­ously su­per-stoked and re­ally happy,” said Sin­isa Tor­bica, 50, whose par­ents im­mi­grated to Mil­wau­kee from Ser­bia in the 1960s.

Tor­bica, who makes a liv­ing as a trans­la­tor, said he long thought Yelich might be of Ser­bian de­scent but wasn’t sure be­cause the Amer­i­can­ized spell­ing dif­fers from the more usual Jelic sur­name. Tor­bica said it was “frick­ing awe­some” when a friend told him about Yelich’s an­ces­try last year. His own friends, he said, feel the same.

“They’re just kind of like awestruck,” Tor­bica said. “They’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it. He’s Ser­bian, are you kid­ding me? MVP?’ It’s un­be­liev­able.”

Yelich said he has never vis­ited Ser­bia or fully re­searched his her­itage, but he feels “pride in it.”

“Any time you can have an im­pact on any­body’s life in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion, to bring happiness to the com­mu­nity or a cer­tain group of peo­ple, you don’t take that lightly as a team, as a player,” he said.

The Brew­ers ac­quired Brew­ers out­fielder Chris­tian Yelich, whose pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was Ser­bian, says he takes “pride” in his her­itage, G1: Dodgers at Brew­ers, late G2: Dodgers (Ryu) at Brew­ers (Mi­ley) 4:09 p.m. Satur­day, FOX G3: Brew­ers (Chacin) at Dodgers (Buehler) 7:39 p.m. Mon­day, FS1 G4: Brew­ers at Dodgers 9:09 p.m. Tues­day, FS1 G5: Brew­ers at Dodgers 5:05 p.m. Wed­nes­day, FS1 G6: Dodgers at Brew­ers 8:39 p.m. Oct. 19, FS1 G7: Dodgers at Brew­ers 9:09 p.m. Oct. 20, FS1 Games 5-7 if nec­es­sary Yelich from the Mar­lins in a trade dur­ing off­sea­son and he went on to win the Na­tional League bat­ting ti­tle with a .326 av­er­age. He hit 36 home runs and had 110 RBIs, just miss­ing the Triple Crown — a rare feat l ast ac­com­plished by Miguel Cabr­era for the Tigers in 2012.

Now, Yelich is a topic of con­ver­sa­tion among Mil­wau­kee’s small, tight-knit Ser­bian com­mu­nity that likes cheer­ing for ath­letes who have a con­nec­tion to home, said Steve Petro­vic, the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Serb Hall on the city’s south­west side. Petro­vic said it’s the same adu­la­tion Ser­bians feel for ath­letes like ten­nis su­per­star No­vak Djokovic and re­tired NBA player Vlade Di­vac.

“When you’re within the Ser­bian com­mu­nity, that kind of stuff is talked about — ‘Did you see Yelich the other night?’ ” Petro­vic said. “That is very com­mon­place.”

Ser­bians’ mi­gra­tion to Mil­wau­kee be­gan in the late 1800s, driven by poverty and over­pop­u­la­tion in Eastern Europe, said John Gurda, a Mil­wau­kee his­to­rian and au­thor.

An­other wave be­gan ar­riv­ing in the 1980s dur­ing the wars in Sara­jevo and the Bos­nian con­flict.

AARON GASH/AP

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