Yelich’s Brew­ers suc­cess stirs Ser­bian pride

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS - By Ivan Moreno

MIL­WAU­KEE — When Brew­ers slug­ger Chris­tian Yelich takes the field against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, he’ll have one group of Mil­wau­kee fans root­ing es­pe­cially loud for his suc­cess: Ser­bian-Amer­i­cans.

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 Yelich from the Mi­ami Mar­lins in a trade this past 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 last ac­com­plished by Miguel Cabr­era in 2012.

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.

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