You may know that new Chicago Cub manager Craig Counsell is a Notre Dame graduate, but did you also know that he was born in South Bend?
Yep. He is one of us — sort of.
Counsell would grow up in White Fish Bay, Wisconsin, while his dad, John, worked in the front office of the Milwaukee Brewers — the very team that the younger Counsell has managed for the last nine seasons.
John Counsell also played for the Irish and Craig was born while John was an assistant under longtime Notre Dame coach Jake Kline. In fact, both John and Craig were team captains — the only father-son combination to claim that distinction in any Notre Dame sport at the time of Craig’s graduation in 1992.
I interviewed the younger Counsell in 1997 not long after he scored the winning run for the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series against Cleveland. He had battled through the minor leagues and was a 27-year-old rookie back then.
He gave his dad much of the credit for his success. “Every day that I wanted him to, he would go out and throw the ball with me,” he told me. “It didn’t matter if he was dead tired or not, he was always out there working with me.”
And, of course, Counsell grew up a Brewers fan. As a youngster, he got to scoot around County Stadium as if it were his own giant playground. “I got to go pretty much anywhere I wanted to,” he added.
That included the clubhouse, where he saw the likes of future Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers get ready for their games. Counsell was 12 when those stars played in the 1982 World Series.
“I think that had to be a big advantage for me — seeing how guys of that stature approached the game.”
In 1997, I called him the Posterboy for Perseverance for making it to the majors at age 27. He then went on to have a steady 15-year career, partly because of his baseball I.Q.
Counsell also figured in another World Series game-deciding run with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. With two outs in Game 7’s ninth inning, he was hit by a pitch to load the bases against the Yankees just before teammate Luis Gonzalez delivered the winning hit.
Playing for five different teams and batting .255 during his career, he played his last five seasons with the team he rooted for as a kid, the Milwaukee Brewers.
Then in 2015, he became their manager and stayed there until just a few days ago when he became the surprise choice to lead the Cubs.
That probably didn’t go over real well in Milwaukee, especially after Counsell had taken them to the playoffs five times, won the N.L. Central three times and posted an overall record of 707-625 in his nine years with the Brew Crew.
Going to the Cubs from the Brewers is probably a little like an Indiana coach going to Purdue. Astonishment on both sides.
Tough luck, I guess for Milwaukee fans. We Cubs fans will embrace the former enemy and give him a standing ovation next spring.
I’ll miss David Ross a little, mainly because I have a soft spot in my heart for his contributions to the 2016 World Series victory, but I’m ready for the change.
So Cub fans go from “Grandpa” Rossy (who, ironically, is seven years younger than the 53-year-old Counsell) to a guy who doesn’t look much older than his younger self — when he was a rookie and jumping on home plate for a World Series win.
If only Counsell can take the Cubs to that kind of ending.