Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger walk into a bar


It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, and, my mom would be thrilled to know, I’m getting my butt kicked in a beer-chugging contest at a Scottsdale bar — bringing up the rear in a three-horse race: 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger and a dweeb who looks like he can’t chug a beer.

As we slam down our empty pint glasses, the flip-flop-wearing postgame Cactus League crowd at this bar goes nuts — but there appears to be some confusion. It’s a tie! Or maybe not.

“Sam’s definitely out,” says Bellinger, the Dodgers star, dismissing me as nothing more than a mere annoyance before turning to his chief rival. “You and I tied.”

“Nah, I won that one!” replies Yelich, the face of the Brewers. “I definitely beat your ass.”

“We got cameras here,” Bellinger points out. “Run it back.”

ESPN’s camera crew offers instant replay from multiple angles, all of which make embarrassingly clear that I finished last and almost coughed up my beer. Otherwise, the video evidence is inconclusive.

Then our audience of several dozen bargoers, who simply cannot believe their good fortune — Yelich! Bellinger! Beer-chugging! At this bar?! — breaks into a chant.

“Re-match! Re-match! Re-match!”

They, like the rest of us, can’t get enough of Belli vs. Yeli, the rivalry that begat a friendship between two of baseball’s brightest stars, who continue to improve on the field and grow closer off of it when they’re not trying to absolutely destroy each other.

Today’s tilt is, by their choosing, a three-person tournament comprising eight great American bar games, including cornhole, Skee-Ball, table tennis and, this being a lazy spring training afternoon at a watering hole called The Hot Chick, a beer-chugging contest. Advantage: my younger, healthier, stronger, more athletic opponents, who also happen to be on their home turf. Bellinger, 24, was born in Scottsdale. Yelich, a 28-year-old L.A. native, is renting a spot across the street.

We tried to conduct an interview too, but let’s be real — each man was far more focused on bludgeoning the others in bar games, which, as you’ll read, included jumbo-sized Connect Four, a massive wooden contraption that could send one of these dudes to the injured list. What follows is a semi-sterilized Q&A patched together from 90 minutes of trash-talk-heavy conversation leading up to our eighth and final contest, the hotly contested beer chug.

ESPN: How did this friendship begin?

Christian Yelich: Probably on the field. He played first a lot. You get on base and talk about literally whatever.

Cody Bellinger: We got closer just this last year. I remember texting him when I robbed him of one of his home runs.

Yelich: I texted him back: “You f—er.”

Bellinger: [Laughs] He did say that. And we just started texting back and forth.

Yelich: Was it going to be a homer, though?

Bellinger: One hundred percent.

Yelich: For sure?

Bellinger: One hundred percent.

ESPN: Does it feel better to rob him of a home run or hit one yourself?

Bellinger: It felt way better robbing him. [Laughs] That was the first time I’ve ever robbed a home run.

Yelich: Well, now I gotta rob him. I was robbed twice last year, by him and Mike Trout. Sucked. Worst feeling ever.

Bellinger: Then I stayed at his house in Malibu right before the California Strong charity event [in January, co-hosted by Yelich].

Yelich: We just wanted him to come to the charity softball game, so I’m like, “Hey man, just stay at my place. Whatever you want to do, just make sure you don’t burn down the house.”

Bellinger: Hey, it’s a house right on the water — I’m down! But it was a pretty solid weekend. Hung out on the beach. Annihilated Nobu sushi.

ESPN: In what ways are you two similar?

Yelich: In a lot of ways off the field, honestly. Personality-wise, we’re laid-back.

Bellinger: Low-key. Maybe awkward. [Both laugh]

ESPN: Would you consider yourselves a little awkward?

Bellinger: I would, for sure.

Yelich: In certain situations, yeah. We just live life, man. I’m not trying to impress anybody, ever.

ESPN: Let’s focus on your differences because that’s more fun. Who’s got the better hair?

Bellinger: Him. Oh, for sure — look at that.

Yelich: There’s a reason why he wore a beanie today.

ESPN: If they make a biographical film about the other guy, who should play him?

Yelich: James Franco should play Cody.

Bellinger: I was hoping for Mark Wahlberg.

Yelich: Or Seth Rogen, maybe?

Bellinger: That’s pretty good. I’ll take it. I like that guy. You’re what’s-his-name …

Yelich: This one should be easy.

Bellinger: His twin! What’s his name?

Yelich: Pete Davidson.

Bellinger: Yes! Boom. Pete Davidson. They’re twins.

ESPN: What’s one thing about the other guy that makes you jealous?

Yelich: His arm. How well he can throw. I can’t do that.

Bellinger: His consistency with the bat.

Yelich: The hardest thing to do in baseball.

Bellinger: Mike Trout, he’s done it for eight years — it’s amazing.

ESPN: Who’s the better batter?

Bellinger: Say it, Christian. Say it.

Yelich: What?

Bellinger: You.

Yelich: Fine, me.

ESPN: Who’s the better long-ball hitter?

Yelich: You probably have been so far in your career.

Bellinger: Yeah, I’ll take that one.

ESPN: Who’s the better fielder?

Yelich: Him for sure.

Bellinger: I’ll take that — although he does have a Gold Glove as well.

Yelich: He was in high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, when I won my first Gold Glove.

Bellinger: Yeah, I just won mine last year.

ESPN: Who’s the better baserunner?

Bellinger: Him. He stole more bases. I could get better at baserunning.

Yelich: I don’t know. He’s pretty fast.

Bellinger: I think I’ll take speed. But complete baserunner? Probably him.

Yelich: Should we line up and run the 40 out here?

ESPN: Who had the better MVP season?

Yelich: Statistically, he had more homers. I don’t know how many RBIs he had.

Bellinger: It was 115.

Yelich: Yeah, I had either 110 or 111 in mine, only 36 homers.

Bellinger: You hit .330, no?

Yelich: Close to it, yeah.

Bellinger: I hit .305.

ESPN: When you hang up your cleats, you hope you finish with more MVPs than the other guy?

Yelich: Absolutely.

Bellinger: Hell yeah. One hundred percent.

ESPN: Who are your measuring sticks? To whom do you compare yourselves, past or present?

Bellinger: Growing up, my favorite player was either Derek Jeter or Manny Ramirez. I was a Yankees fan because Pops [Clay Bellinger] played for the Yanks, but then he got traded, so I went to their archrival, the Red Sox. Ramirez had so much swag to his game. It was so fun to watch.

Yelich: I was a Yankees fan. I went to more Dodger games, but Jeter was my favorite player too, so I followed the Yankees more.

ESPN: Christian, your Brewers have been in the playoffs two consecutive seasons for the first time since 1982. Make the case: This is the year the Brewers finish atop the mountain.

Yelich: The more times that you get there, the better chance you have of winning the whole thing. And we got a talented team — a lot of the same guys, a lot of new guys, and we’ve got a lot of versatility, guys that can play a lot of different places. We’ll see how it pans out. Obviously, we’ll probably have to go through these guys [the Dodgers] at some point if we want to make it to the World Series.

Bellinger: Happened in 2018.

Yelich: Went to a Game 7 in the NLCS. We should have had you guys. Honestly, we should have beat them in the series, but that’s the thing. You got to execute.

ESPN: Cody, your Dodgers have been to, like, 70 consecutive playoffs. Why is this year the year?

Bellinger: Well, we were good last year, then we traded for the best, or second-best, or third-best player in the game, Mookie Betts. Veteran presence, MVP, consistency, good defense as well. We also improved our bullpen a lot, so I like our chances.

Yelich: I like my chances now. What’s left, just beer-chugging? I’ve already done this once. I’ve got video evidence of it [during a Bucks playoff game in 2019]. You’re about to be awful at this, aren’t you?

Bellinger: I’m going to be terrible. Eight ounces, right?

Yelich: I’m gonna stick with eight.

Bellinger: Yeah, eight is good. We got early mornings.

Yelich: Can you handle that, Sam? Can we get you a straw?

Bellinger: At least you don’t have a splinter you’re dealing with.

ESPN: Did you seriously get injured playing Connect Four?

Bellinger: [Laughs] I did.

Yelich: Is it bleeding? Are you going to bleed out?

ESPN: Tomorrow we’re going to read: “Bellinger, 15-day IL — splinter via Connect Four.”

Bellinger: It’s a real splinter. If I lose, it’s because of this.

Yelich: You got to be kidding me.

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