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Christian Yelich Has the Brewers Soaring

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“I don’t know what more he could do right now,” said Craig Counsell, the Brewers’ manager. “He’s basically been Barry Bonds in the second half of the season. I mean, that’s what he’s done. I played against Barry a lot, being in Arizona for those years, that’s what it’s felt like with Christian in the second half.”

So, yes, life is grand for Yelich — though on Tuesday, especially, he felt the enduring sense of loss that underscores his reason for being here. It was the second anniversary of the death of Jose Fernandez, the star Marlins pitcher who was killed in a boating accident in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 2016.

Fernandez had boundless spirit and talent, but the accident revealed a darker side; he was found to have been legally drunk at the time, with cocaine in his system, and two others died with him in the crash. The tragedy tore the guts of a young team in a perennially unstable baseball market. The franchise was sold, and new management traded its star outfielders – Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna – last winter.

Yelich believes he would not be with the Brewers had Fernandez lived.

“I’d still be in Miami, and Stanton would still be there, and Ozuna would still be there as well,” he said. “Two years ago today. I remember the day very, very vividly.”

The details remain fresh to Yelich: the group text canceling that day’s game, the meeting in the clubhouse with players at their lockers facing outward, staring blankly at each other, nobody crying yet, the news too raw and disturbing to comprehend.

To think of it now, Yelich said, is to imagine himself looking down on it all, from Dee Gordon’s emotional homer in the next game, to the tearful news conferences, to the hearse at the field, to the funeral. It felt like a movie, Yelich said, and the players all knew the aftermath: they would never win in Miami without Fernandez, and they would never be the same as people.

“You don’t take anything for granted anymore,” Yelich said. “That’s a big reason why I decided I wanted to play in the W.B.C. the following year. There’s a Japan trip coming up now, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ You want to get everything out of this game. You want to experience as much of it as there is to offer, because you never how long you’re going to get to do it. It’s short.


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