Milwaukee is the once and future home of Most Valuable Players.
It was a thrill to see all four of the Brewers’ league MVPs take part in the ceremonial first pitch on opening day: Robin Yount (1982, 1989) and Rollie Fingers (1981) tossed to Ryan Braun (2011) and Christian Yelich (2018). It’s remarkable that the Brewers have had five MVP wins, since that is also the number of trips to the playoffs the team has had since moving to Brew City in 1970.
Yelich, however, has begun the season as if he plans to add another MVP trophy and postseason appearance to the collection.
To say that the Brewers’ right fielder is off to a hot start feels like a gross understatement. He hit home runs in each of the Brewers’ four games and had a double in the ninth inning Sunday which drove in the tying and winning runs. His home-run streak ended Monday night in Cincinnati, but he did hit a double and scored a run in a 4-3 win. The reigning National League MVP entered Tuesday night’s game with a .412 batting average.
Having gotten so used to celebrating the latest big hit by Yelich in the dugout, his teammates have gotten bored with it. At least that’s how they played it Sunday, initially pretending to ignore his outstretched hand for the usual high-five. The Miller Park dugout camera captured a hint of confusion on Yelich’s face before his teammates relented and acknowledged his latest fence-clearing shot.
Asked about that moment after the game, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said it was a good “problem” to have.
“They’re just trying to come up with something new,” Counsell said of his players and Yelich’s offensive productivity. “I hope they’re challenged by that for the entire season.”
It was looking that way after Wednesday’s game. The Brewers notched a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds to sweep their series with the Reds and improve their season record to 6-1.
While the Brewers are figuring out new ways to celebrate, Milwaukee’s other major-league team is pondering a similar question: What kind of party are we going to have when our star player wins the NBA’s top individual award?
It hasn’t happened yet, and there’s a chance it might not. But all signs point to the Milwaukee Bucks needing to put together some kind of lights-and-music display for the day, later this spring, when they recognize Giannis Antetotokounmpo for being honored as league MVP.
Giannis — as he’s known by fans and announcers who don’t want to butcher the pronunciation of his African surname — has had the kind of season not seen in Milwaukee since a big fella named Kareem was patrolling the paint at the old Milwaukee Arena.
The 6-foot-11 native of Greece plays all over the floor, defying traditional position definitions, although sometimes he is one of the league’s tallest point guards. Entering Tuesday’s games he was fifth in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounds, 13th in blocked shots and 19th in assists. In the advanced-statistics categories, he stood first in player-efficiency rating, defensive rating and win shares per 48 minutes.
Most importantly — and the factor that should give Giannis the edge over the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, the league’s leading scorer and the other leading contender for the award — after a win Monday the Bucks had the NBA’s best record (58-20), with an opportunity to finish with 18 more wins than last season. It’s obviously a subjective award, and “shouldn’t the league’s best player get the MVP award?” will probably be argued today at two out of every three sports bars in America. But the Bucks’ substantial improvement in wins seems to be the strongest part of the claim that Giannis is the league’s Most Valuable Player.
If the Brewers are in town and aren’t playing simultaneously, the Bucks should invite Yelich downtown for the pregame ceremony. Then the fans at the Fiserv Forum can chant “M-V-P!” for two.