JUPITER They started out with Wiffle Ball. The Yelich brothers — Christian and Collin — played in the front yard of their home, which sat at the end of a cul-de-sac in Southern California. A ball hit into the neighbor’s driveway was a home run.
“We’d be out there for hours playing Wiffle Ball,” Collin said.
They were teammates at Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks. Collin was a catcher. Christian an outfielder. They were in the same starting lineup when Collin was a sophomore and Christian was a senior.
“We grew as brothers through the game of baseball,” Collin said. “That’s all we did as kids was play baseball.”
And that’s what they continue to do as young adults.
Only now, even though both wear Marlins jerseys that spell “Yelich” across the back, they are light years apart. While Christian is a big-league star, Collin is a catcher trying to work his way up from the depths of the low minors.
“It would be unbelievable if Christian and I could play together again,” Collin said, standing outside the Marlins’ minor-league clubhouse as a light rain fell on Thursday. “It would be just like old times when we were kids going through high school, just chasing the dream.”
The night before, Christian came up with a couple of hits to help lead Team USA to its first World Baseball Classic title. He was named to the All-Classic team. Christian Yelich was a first-round draft pick, owns a .293 career average and is in the third year of a $50 million guaranteed contract.
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At the opposite end of the spectrum, Collin Yelich was a 29th-round pick, has never hit higher than .242 while subsisting on the standard minor-league pay of about $6,000 a year, and was released by the Braves after two seasons in which he failed to make it out of rookie ball.
The Marlins signed him over the winter, keeping his dream alive.
“The Marlins were grateful enough to reach out to me as soon as it happened,” Collin said of his release last fall. “I had talked to the Marlins out of high school and obviously the Yelich name does help a little bit, having a brother here in the system.”
The brothers have the same DNA.
But the similarities begin to end there.
“We’re not twins,” Collin said. “Every ballplayer is different.”
Christian is a gifted hitter and Gold Glove outfielder, one of the top young stars in the majors. Collin is a defensive-minded catcher with questionable hitting skills.
“For me, my game is more defensive while his game is a mixture of both,” Collin said. “Obviously, he has a Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger. For me I take big pride in my defensive work.”
There’s no sibling rivalry. Collin admires Christian and all of the success he has achieved.
“Ever since we were young, he’s been an amazing baseball player,” Collin said of Christian.
“He stuck with it and developed and really took it to a new level. We’re very close. As a family we’re all very close.”
Collin grabbed his equipment bag and walked through the door leading to the minor-league clubhouse. Two doors down was the entrance his brother uses.
▪ The Marlins trimmed their spring roster to 41 on Thursday by sending six players to the minors.
Optioned to Triple A New Orleans were infielder Matt Juengel, right-handed pitcher Severino Gonzalez, and outfielders Destin Hood, Isaac Galloway and Moises Sierra.
Optioned to Double A Jacksonville was infielder Brian Anderson.
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena vs. Washington Nationals RHP Jacob Turner, 7:05 p.m., Jupiter.
▪ Saturday: Marlins (to be announced) vs. St. Louis Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.