Yelich’s roots stir pride

Slug­ger’s Ser­bian her­itage at­tracts new Brew­ers’ fans

The Detroit News - - Baseball - Associated Press

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

The 26-year-old MVP can­di­date’s ban­ner year 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 for the Tigers in 2012.

Now, Yelich is a fre­quent 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 had three hits 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.

They set­tled in Mil­wau­kee’s Walker’s Point neigh­bor­hood, near the city’s south side, and largely worked in­dus­trial jobs, Gurda said. An­other wave of Ser­bian im­mi­grants be­gan ar­riv­ing in Mil­wau­kee in the 1980s dur­ing the wars in Sara­jevo and the Bos­nian con­flict.

The St. Sava Ser­bian Or­tho­dox Cathedral, the St. Sava Or­tho­dox School and Serb Hall have be­come im­por­tant gath­er­ing places for Ser­bians, who num­ber about 4,000 in the area, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data.

“I can guar­an­tee you that if you go out to Serb Hall or the school, they know (about Yelich) and they’re proud,” Gurda said.

Tommy John for Gre­go­rius

The Yan­kees say star short­stop Didi Gre­go­rius will need Tommy John surgery on his right el­bow af­ter in­jur­ing him­self dur­ing the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

The team said in an un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment that surgery has not yet been sched­uled. Man­ager Aaron Boone is op­ti­mistic Gre­go­rius will spend most of next sea­son with the club, but the team will know more af­ter surgery.

Get off the grass

The Di­a­mond­backs are switch­ing from nat­u­ral grass to an ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face in time for the 2019 sea­son.

Team pres­i­dent Derrick Hall said the “state-of-art” syn­thetic grass will be bet­ter for play­ers. He also says it will en­hance the fan ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the roof of Chase Field won’t have to be open dur­ing the day be­fore night games. That will al­low for cooler con­di­tions through­out the day in the ball­park.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Chris­tian Yelich has cap­tured the hearts of Mil­wau­kee’s Ser­bian com­mu­nity.

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