Awards in tow, Yelich reflects on busy offseason

January 27th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- The offseason is supposed to be for rest, but has had little of that. On Sunday, he was on the move again.

National League Valuable Player Award in tow, Yelich was the star of "Brewers On Deck," the club's annual fanfest, which sold out Milwaukee's downtown convention center for the first time. He made those rounds after jetting in from the Baseball Writers' Association of America's New York chapter dinner on Saturday night, which followed a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, last week for an event to mark American Family Insurance's stadium naming rights agreement, which came after he filmed a Pepsi commercial, which came after he helped host a charity softball game as part of an effort that has raised in excess of $1.5 million so far for California wildfire relief.

And that's just the past two weeks.

"It's been a lot," said Yelich.

Young fan awestruck to meet Yelich

After he flies home to California, there are no more trips and no major events between Sunday and Feb. 18, when Brewers position players formally report to Spring Training. That's when Yelich will begin a defense of his breakthrough 2018 season, in which he flirted with the Triple Crown, became the first Brewers player ever to win a league batting title, and won NL MVP Award honors, the NL Hank Aaron Award as the league's top offensive player, and an NL Silver Slugger Award.

Yelich's team faces a similar task. The Brewers set a franchise record by winning 102 games, including an NL Central tiebreaker against the Cubs, an NL Division Series sweep of the Rockies and three more victories in the NL Championship Series before falling to the Dodgers, one game shy of the World Series.

"We got so close; one game away from going to the World Series," said outfielder . "I tell people all the time, it's the same feeling I had in KC, when we got to the World Series and lost in Game 7."

Of Yelich, Cain said, "I got an up close and personal view of him and the guy was unbelievable all season long. The way he played, there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to win [the NL MVP Award]. He's a big part of this team, a guy who drives this team. We don't expect anything less next year. It's going to be tough, but he's capable of getting it done."

The Brewers are cognizant of their MVP's busy offseason, and may take steps in Spring Training to build in as much rest as possible, president of baseball operations David Stearns suggested.

But Yelich will have a say. Stearns has a hunch that even in Spring Training, he will want to play.

"I've talked to him about it a little bit," said Stearns. "I think he understands this has been a little bit of a different offseason. I think he's also committed to exhale for the next week and a half or so. Then, we'll make sure we take care of him in camp. I think his body is ready; physically he feels great. If we need to give him some mental breaks, we'll certainly do that."

Said manager Craig Counsell: "Christian and I actually had a conversation about it last night. It was a good conversation. It's what you do now. You get locked in, it's a different season, different things are going to get you locked in. So that's the challenge of being a professional athlete. What's next is always the question that you're answering.

"Christian has a huge challenge in front of him. I think he's looking forward to that. He wants to get better and he feels like he can get better. That's what's on his plate and that's what you want on his plate."

When it was suggested that Yelich is now a superstar in Milwaukee, Counsell exclaimed, "He's a superstar in the world. We had people chasing our car down last night down the streets in New York. It's different. He won the MVP. That makes life different."

Yelich flew with owner Mark Attanasio from Los Angeles to New York, where they were met by Counsell and Stearns for Saturday's BBWAA event. Then they all traveled on to Milwaukee for On Deck. In his speech in New York, Yelich referenced a similar trip almost exactly one year earlier, from Southern California to Phoenix to pick up Bob Uecker and Robin Yount before traveling to On Deck.

That was two days or so after he was traded to the Brewers from the Marlins, and Yelich's head was still swimming.

"It has been a wild ride. A crazy 12 months," Yelich said. "If you told me everything that was going to happen in those next 12 months, I definitely wouldn't have believed you. … It makes you grateful for all the experiences along the way."

At some point soon, the focus will shift to experiences ahead.

"We were close [last season]", Yelich said. "People have probably had some time to sit back and reflect on the season and those feelings. You want those feelings again. You want the energy in the stadium like we felt down the stretch and in the playoffs. You want to get back there and get over that hurdle, get into the World Series and hopefully bring one here to Milwaukee. I think we'll be talking about that more as Spring Training gets underway and you start to define your team goals a little bit and the approach you want to take into the season. I think that hunger and that drive should be there for everyone. It's not a great feeling to be sitting there after a Game 7 loss, having been so close. I think it's going to drive us as a team."

And himself?

"I still feel the same," Yelich said. "I don't feel any different than I did a year ago. Life has changed a little bit, but I'm taking it all in stride and learning along the way. It's been a blast. It's been a lot of fun. I'm just really excited to get back to playing baseball and picking up where we left off as a team and seeing if we can make that next step."