Craig Counsell Spent 15 years in the League on 5 different teams. Counsell was both the highest-rated 2nd baseman and the highest-rated 3rd baseman over the period from 2002 to 2008. He has the distinction of having been on base for the last two times that the World Series ended in a walk-off hit, and was the NLCS MVP in 2001. Besides all of that, a guy that spent his off seasons coaching middle school basketball. Enjoy this special, rare interview with Brian and Craig.
Geraghty: Were there any other sports that you played growing up that were a real passion for you? Or was baseball always the clear favorite over the other sports?
Counsell: Baseball was always definitely number one. My dad played baseball and worked in the Milwaukee Brewers front office, so I kind of grew up in a baseball family. So baseball was definitely number one for sure.
Geraghty: Along the same lines, in more of a developed sense, was it always a goal you had to play professionally? Or was there something else you wanted to do growing up?
Counsell: I was like a lot of little kids, growing up I always loved to play the game of baseball. I think I had a dream to play in the big leagues always. I just kept playing and nobody ever told me that I couldn’t keep going with it, so I think that’s kind of how it happened that I ended up playing in the MLB. I dreamed of doing it, but I don’t know that I thought it was realistic. It was basically, that no one told me I couldn’t play anymore, so I kind of just kept playing.
Geraghty: Was there a defining moment for you that helped you realize baseball would become more than a hobby for you?
Counsell: I think for every player, there’s just steps along the way. Every time you move to a new level, your always faced with better competition and a new challenge. I was a high school kid from Wisconsin, which really wasn’t a big baseball state, and then you go to college and realize that I could play at the college level. Then you start playing in some of the Summer Leagues, where you realize you can play with those guys, and from there you end up in the Majors being able to play at that elite level and you just kind of keep going and progressing further with it.
Geraghty: Looking back at one of the steps you had to take, I read that you attended the University of Notre Dame. With it being more well-known for its college football program, what made Notre Dame the prominent choice over other colleges for you?
Counsell: I was born in South Bend Indiana, which is where Notre Dame is and my dad went there and coached the baseball team there for a couple years too. Notre Dame was kind of a fit for me, because of all those reasons. It definitely is a football school, there’s no question about it. Its baseball program there is good, but it’s always going to be known for its football program there and always should be. It was a great place to go to school though, and any time you’re around great athletes it’s always a good atmosphere for you to grow in your own respective sport and get better at it.
Geraghty: Going to the next level of your baseball career, being drafted by the Colorado Rockies if you could describe the process you went through in preparing for the draft, and also how many teams did you work out for?
Counsell: Well I think in baseball it’s a little different when you’re a college player. Your just kind of playing your season and you know there’s scouts in the stands. You kind of hear you might be drafted, and you really have no idea who you’re going to go to, and one day you’re at home and the phone rings the day after draft day and someone says from the Colorado Rockies says, “Hey! We drafted you in the 11th round.” So you have no idea who you’re going to be drafted by, or whether you’re even going to be drafted at all. They just basically tell you to pack your bags and be in Denver in a week.
Geraghty: Paralleling that experience to another sport like basketball, many of the players usually have an inkling of what team that they’re headed to at least.
Counsell: Yeah, some of the top picks in baseball have maybe a little bit of an idea. As for myself, I was drafted in the 11th round, so I wasn’t really a high pick. As you get a little bit later in the draft, I don’t know that you have a really good idea of who you’re going to get drafted by.
Geraghty: Once you ended up getting into the Majors, what player or coach would you say helped you learn the ins and outs of the game, and helped you take your game to another level? Would you say that any of the managers you played for had a bigger influence on your career than the others? Or would you say they all contributed equally?
Counsell: There’s always a lot of people that help you when you’re coming up, there’s a lot of coaches that always helped me. I think players wise, the Major League player that I watched as a young player was Walt Weiss, who at the time was the shortstop for the Colorado Rockies. I always thought our games were kind of similar, and our strengths were very similar, so he was the person that I always thought if I could play like him, then maybe I can have success in the Big Leagues.
There have been several coaches. Gene Glynn, was my first professional manager who’s a scout now for the Tampa Bay Rays, Jim Leyland who was my first Big League manager, Dale Sveum who was the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, those are the kinds of guys that come to mind that really helped me a lot over my career.
I could definitely pick out things that they all helped me with, I think your first Big League manager is always going to have a big impact on you, and in my case it was Jim Leyland. He’s obviously had a great managing career, and he’s obviously had a big impact on me. I think you learn things from everybody though, you always try to take that approach to the game that you can learn from every manager you play for.
Geraghty: I know you played for several different teams and were in the league for a number of yours, but if you had to choose one or two. Who would you say was the toughest pitcher you ever faced?
Counsell: Toughest pitcher I ever faced was probably Billy Wagner, who pitched for the Mets, Braves and Astros. I was always walking back to the dugout when he was pitching for sure. That’s the guy that comes to mind.
Geraghty: Focusing on more of an aesthetic thing as a player, baseball has that different flavor to it as far as the stadiums. Since no one stadium is like the other regarding the different dimensions. What was your favorite stadium to play in? Favorite city?
Counsell: I always liked going to San Francisco, I think it’s a great town. I like the way they did the stadium there right on the water, it just has great atmosphere. It just has that old stadium feel to it, although it’s really kind of new. The historical parks, like Fenway and Wrigley are always fun to visit, there’s no question, because of the history that goes with them. Every time you walk in those buildings you definitely sense it. Those are the ones that I remember most.
Geraghty: Taking a step to the grand stage, playing in the World Series. Playing in your first with the Florida Marlins, and your second with the Arizona Diamondbacks, both teams were regarded as underdogs by the media in each of their respective match ups. What are some of the characteristics you think it took to reach the pinnacle status as a baseball team when others are doubting you?
Counsell: Well, that’s a good question. I think the baseball playoffs are a little different than other sports. I think what happens in the playoffs, is you have a tournament that you go through during the month of October and I think it’s both times what you remember is your team “gets hot.” A lot of guys start playing really well on those types of teams. Ultimately, a lot of guys played well and stepped up when they needed to. The team that wins is usually the one that you can point to that had so many guys help the team win and play their role. It’s really tough in baseball for one guy to do it, it’s just having a lot of guys play well and that’s what makes you win in the World Series.
Geraghty: Were there any players growing up that you wanted to be like when you went pro?
Counsell: Well you know, I grew up in Milwaukee and the Brewers had two Hall of Famers at that time with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Those were the guys who were the All-Stars and were a lot of fun to watch. There was a player named Jim Gantner, who was probably closer to the type of player that I was, but I always wanted to be Robin Yount. He was pretty much any kid’s hero that grew up in Milwaukee.
Geraghty: Towards the end of your career, stepping into the front office role for the Milwaukee Brewers, was a general manager something you always aspired to be after your career was over? Were there any General Managers who you looked to model your work after now?
Counsell: I think I just really wanted to learn how the other side of a baseball team works. I saw how things worked on the field and from the dugout, and there’s a whole other side to it that makes the engine run and that’s the front office. It gave me the opportunity to do something different and learn something different. I don’t know where it’s going to lead, but I’m enjoying learning the different aspects of it. As far as general managers, I can’t really say that I have a style, I’m just trying to learn more than anything.
Geraghty: With the power hitting Prince Fielder recently signing with the Detroit Tigers, are the Brewers looking at any free agent or trade options, in order to replace his presence of power in the clean up spot?
Counsell: Well the Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez in the off season, and nobody is going to replace Prince Fielder completely, he had six amazing years in Milwaukee. You try to get a bunch of guys to contribute and fill his shoes and I think Aramis is a very good player who’s going to help a lot. There’s also a young first baseman named Matt Gamble who’s going to help. Everyone’s really going to contribute and help out to make up for the loss of a player like Prince, but we still have some very talented players on the roster that will help make up for him signing with the Tigers.
Geraghty: Looking back on your storied career, was there a monumental memory that really stands out to you from when you played?
Counsell: Both World Series are going to stand out for me. Playing in a Game 7 of a World Series, at bats in the bottom of the 9th in both series, celebrating with your teammates when you win the World Series, it’s all great memories for me.
Geraghty: Would you say between the two World Series, winning on with the Marlins and the other with the Diamondbacks, would you say the experience is different at all?
Counsell: Winning a World Series is great, their like your kids, there’s not a favorite kid. Winning a World Series is great, you don’t love one more than the other.
Geraghty: If you could offer one parting piece of advice to an up and coming athlete playing professionally in their respective sport, what would it be?
Counsell: You’ve got to love what you do and work hard at it. Passion and hard work can get you a long way.
On behalf of Sports Jabber and myself, we thank you Mr. Counsell for taking the time out of your busy schedule to look back on your storied career, as well as give us a hint of what your career holds for you in the front office with the Milwaukee Brewers. Best of luck to you and thanks again for being a gracious and cooperative participant in the interview.
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