Counsell's father gave him early leg up
Infielder cites influence of early days around clubhouse
MILWAUKEE -- John Counsell never rose as high in the baseball ranks as his boy Craig, who has won a pair of World Series rings and is working on his 15th big league season. But Craig Counsell figures that he never would have made it this far without his dad.
"I never felt any pressure from my dad to play baseball," said Craig, an infielder in his second stint with the Brewers. "It was just what I loved to do. A lot of it is that when you're a kid, you can tell it's what your dad loves and you just want to be with him. So that's what you end up doing."Craig Counsell has done it extremely well. He famously scored the winning run for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, then earned another ring with the D-backs in 2001 after winning National League Championship Series MVP honors. Now the 38-year-old Counsell, who grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay while his dad worked in the Brewers' front office, is playing his fourth season for his hometown team. Craig began by following in his dad's footsteps and then continued the path on his own. John Counsell, born in Oconomowoc, Wis., went to Notre Dame to play baseball, just like his son would do decades later. He signed with the Minnesota Twins organization (for $12,000, Craig says, more than double what his boy would get from the Rockies nearly 40 years later) and played four Minor League seasons from 1964-67 as an outfielder, including three for a Class A affiliate in Wisconsin Rapids. John Counsell batted .230 with 32 RBIs and 40 runs scored in the Florida State League in 1967, but his playing career was suddenly over the following spring. John took a coaching assignment at Notre Dame and Craig was born in South Bend, Ind., two years later. Nine years after that, John Counsell took a job in the Brewers' front office. He ran the club's speaker's bureau first, then served as community relations director. "He basically worked for the Brewers for 10 years while I was growing up," Craig said. "More than anything, just being exposed to Major League Baseball and seeing the players up close, being in the clubhouse, being on the field, that was a huge influence. That opens your eyes. You soak stuff in, even if you don't know you are." Because John Counsell's work took him into the Brewers' clubhouse every day, Craig often tagged along. "When you're a kid, going in the clubhouse is a huge treat," Craig said. "I had my eyes wide open, and that meant seeing the good and the bad." The good included getting to know future Hall of Famers like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. The Counsells often saw Molitor off the field. Today, John Counsell sells commercial insurance in Fort Myers, Fla. He was already living there in 1997, when Craig, who played all of four games for the Rockies in 1995 and 1997, was traded to the Marlins midway through the 1997 season and thrust into a pennant race. Craig batted .299 in 51 games with the eventual-champion Marlins. "I was thrown into a pennant race, and I really believe that being in a clubhouse before and seeing how people acted and how they responded to things made that possible for me as a rookie," Craig said. "It was a huge part of being able to handle everything. "I've always thought that I got the most from just being there as a kid," he said. "More than anything, that's the best experience."
John Counsell still stops by when Craig's team passes through South Florida. He was there for the tail end of the Brewers' four-game series there early this month, then traveled to Milwaukee for a couple of games on the team's last homestand.
He didn't know it at the time, but Counsell and his dad were on the cutting edge of the video revolution in baseball. He used to haul equipment with his dad up the ramps at County Stadium to the loge level to film the "open" side of hitters from above. Today, video is used extensively and the Brewers employ former Major League lefty Joe Crawford full-time to coordinate their system.
When John Counsell was doing it, it was new.
"That was like an extra job my dad did, so I remember watching hitting videos of big league players," Craig said. "It was all about exposure for me."
His most vivid memory with his dad?
"I remember watching games, obviously, but I remember walking those long ramps more than anything," Craig said. "Anyone who saw games at County Stadium will know exactly what I'm talking about. To get anywhere there, from the upper deck down to the clubhouse, you had to walk those long ramps. We always seemed to be going up and down those things together."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.