PHOENIX -- Christian Yelich got a heads up on Sept. 19 that his buddy Baker Mayfield had something in mind for the following day. Yelich knew that Mayfield, then the high-profile backup quarterback of the long-suffering Cleveland Browns, had a game the next night against the New York Jets, but
PHOENIX -- Christian Yelich got a heads up on Sept. 19 that his buddy Baker Mayfield had something in mind for the following day. Yelich knew that Mayfield, then the high-profile backup quarterback of the long-suffering Cleveland Browns, had a game the next night against the New York Jets, but nothing else.
“Wait and see,” Mayfield told Yelich.
So Yelich waited. The Brewers arrived in Pittsburgh that night in time to watch Thursday Night Football, and Yelich, who was in the midst of the late-season surge that made him the frontrunner for the National League MVP Award, saw Mayfield arrive at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium wearing a Brewers No. 22 jersey.
Then Yelich watched as Browns starter Tyrod Taylor went down with an injury, putting Mayfield into the game. Mayfield led the Browns back from a 14-0 deficit for their first victory in nearly two years. At the end of a triumphant postgame press conference, Mayfield leaned into the microphone and said, “Christian Yelich for NL MVP.”
“Everything that followed afterwards just added to the special run that we had,” said Yelich, who did win the NL MVP Award and led the Brewers to a NL Central crown and within one game of the World Series. “We had everything going for us down the stretch.”
On Friday, Mayfield was in a Brewers jersey again. This time, it was his own No. 6 for a two-day stint in Milwaukee’s Spring Training camp.
“I grew up dreaming of playing baseball, so it’s pretty crazy becoming friends with Christian Yelich,” Mayfield said. “It’s pretty fun to be here, riding the coattails of an MVP.”
“It started off as a joke,” Yelich said.
The joke became reality after Yelich ran the idea of Mayfield taking part in camp by his friend Mike Attanasio, the son of the Brewers’ owner. Mark Attanasio, GM David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell all approved, and Mayfield reported to camp Friday morning with a locker waiting for him.
“Just trying to get a contract, man,” Mayfield joked.
“Probably riding the bench, but we’ll see,” he said.
Mayfield and Yelich became friends a little more than a year ago after meeting at Proactive Sports Performance, a gym in Westlake Village, Calif., near Yelich’s home. Mayfield was prepping for the NFL Combine and the 2018 NFL Draft, when he would go to Cleveland with the first overall pick. Yelich was getting ready for his fifth full season in the Major Leagues, which took a turn when he was traded from the Marlins to the Brewers in late January.
“It was one of those mutual-respect things. He’s just so nice, such a down-to-earth guy,” Mayfield said. “Having real conversations. There’s nothing phony about him. What you see is what you get. It’s a lot of fun.”
For both, 2018 was a dream year. Mayfield led the Browns to a respectable 7-8-1 record after they were 0-16 the year before. Yelich led the Brewers to their fourth division title in 50 seasons as a franchise, and became the team’s fifth league MVP.
When Yelich won that award live on MLB Network, Mayfield was there. The Browns happened to be on their bye week.
When they talked, did they ever wonder whether this was real life?
“Along the lines of that -- ‘Is this really happening? Who allowed us to be professionals in sports?’” Mayfield said. “You dream of playing sports for a long time and then when you’re actually here, you don’t even realize it until you take a step back and look at it. A lot of that, just realizing how fortunate and blessed we were.”
Said Yelich: “It’s definitely a different life. It’s under the microscope sometimes. The thing is, at the end of the day, everyone is still the same person they were when they were a kid growing up. You don’t ever lose sight of that.”
Mayfield grew up in Austin, Texas, and was actually a pretty good third baseman who says he had some offers to play baseball. Baseball was “his first love,” he said, but football was his calling, so he went to Texas Tech and then to Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff semifinals twice in three years, and won the 2017 Heisman Trophy.
When he landed with the Browns, Mayfield had an immediate fan in the Brewers' clubhouse in third baseman Travis Shaw, an Ohio native who has been known to wear Mayfield’s jersey to the ballpark on football Sundays. On Thursday night, Shaw previewed Mayfield’s appearance in Brewers camp on social media.
“There's some optimism in Cleveland, finally,” he said. “After a lot of years, finally some optimism.”
Before shagging fly balls and throwing some footballs during the Brewers’ morning practice, Mayfield joined the daily team meeting. Counsell figures Mayfield could have stood in front of the room and talked all day, if they let him.
“What you’re immediately drawn to is, he was part of the team from the second he was in the room,” Counsell said. “He’s a leader, there’s no question about it. You get that vibe from him right away, and you can see why guys follow him and why he’s the quarterback.
“The dude has it. No question.”
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.