his iconic novel "You Canít Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe
penned the following declaration: "You canít go back home to
your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love,
back home to a young manís dreams of glory."
never met Craig Counsell, who has disproved every claim in that
hypothesis ó going back home not once, but three times after leaving
his native Milwaukee. Twice during his 16-year Major League Baseball
playing career as a Brewer and most recently as assistant to the clubís
general manager and now the teamís manager, all realizations of the
childhood dreams he had growing up in Whitefish Bay. Counsell still
lives there today with his high school sweetheart, who is now his wife
and the mother of his four children.
lived as a Brewer for nearly his entire life. As a kid, he frequently
hung around County Stadium accompanying his father, John, the teamís
director of community relations.
"I spent as
much time as I could at the ballpark," Counsell says when he was
introduced as Brewers manager in May. "I loved being here. I
loved being able to come down to the clubhouse. It was a real treat
for me when my dad had to talk to the players or had business down
here. I would follow him and soak up everything I could."
Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor go about their business
every day gave Counsell an idea of the amount of work required to
reach the sportís highest level. He would spend days on end playing
baseball, at practices and games in organized leagues, and countless
other hours improvising games when fewer players were available.
a lot of Ďstrikeout,í" recalls childhood friend Jeff Sohns,
who now lives in Wauwatosa. "We painted a square on the wall at
Richards Elementary School. That was the strike zone." The games
were often one-on-one or two-on-two contests where balls hit in
certain areas were hits or outs.
neighbors hated us," Sohns says. "We hit the ball over the
fence, into their yards and off of their houses." Sohns says
"strikeout" was a great way to fine-tune fundamentals.
way, shape or form, our Ďstrikeoutí really helped him get there
(to the Major Leagues)."
like 10 games a day, and youíd get 40 at bats," Counsell
recalls in a local broadcast interview with WUWM. "Thatís how I
caught up with the kids in Texas, Florida and Arizona, who could play
has become a southeast Wisconsin institution, he is also considered
royalty in two other cities. A picture of him, arms raised as he
crosses home plate with the winning run in the 1997 World Series has
adorned the outfield wall at the Miami Marlins ballpark, and he
achieved permanent legend status after his MVP performance in the 2001
playoffs during Arizonaís run to the championship.
But thereís no
place like home. He and his wife support several local charities. The
fields on which Counsell played little league baseball have been
renamed Craig Counsell Park. Counsell regularly hangs out with boyhood
buddies at reunions at Whitefish Bay High School. Heís come a long
way since those games of "strikeout," but he doesnít want
himself or his family to be considered celebrities.
any town you can do that in, itís Milwaukee," Counsell says.
"This is the easiest city Iíve lived in to do that. People here
are not celebrity crazy. People say hi, but they just say hi."
signed a three-year contract to manage the Brewers but hopes his run
here extends well into the future. He has come home and wants to stay
certainly donít have any aspirations to go anywhere else and do
this, but at the same time, in this business itís hard to look that
far out so you have a short-term view, especially in a job where win
today is the message. So you donít take that long a view, but I know
Iím in the place where I want to be and certainly donít have any
visions of going anywhere else."