While his heart may lay in his native Wisconsin, the spirit and temperament of Craig Counsell resides in Arizona.
As an integral member of the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series title team, Counsell was clearly instrumental in helping Arizona to its’ initial baseball championship, and stood at the center of a team which achieved beyond its own expectation.
While Counsell was back in Chase Field this weekend and managing his home town Milwaukee Brewers, he took time to reflect on the glory days in the desert. A native of Whitefish Bay, a Milwaukee suburb, Counsell said he was a huge Brewers fan growing up and managing his home town team now is beyond a dream.
In the traditional baseball lexicon, manager, and coaches in other sports are hired to be fired. Should Counsell leave his dream job, his baseball acumen and reverence for the game will burn as bright as his playing years with the Diamondbacks.
“I had five great years here,” he said in the Brewers dugout before the opener of a series with the Diamondbacks Thursday night. “I have great memories from here, and I was actually a decent player. What you remember coming back to this place is game seven of the World Series.”
That would be Nov. 4, 2001, and the series with the New York Yankees even in six games.
After beating the Yankees in game six, Randy Johnson earned the win and went seven innings. For game seven, manager Bob Brenly started Curt Schilling, who lasted into the eighth inning. After Miguel Batistia retired one hitter, Brenly then called on Johnson to come back in game seven.
After Luis Gonzalez’s single to center off of Yankees’ closer Marino Rivera firmly etched the moment into baseball history, Johnson was eventually credited with the win.
“I vividly remember Johnson walking the bullpen for game seven, and I thought, ‘what an imposing site,’” Counsell recalled. “The day before, Randy threw, what, 110, 115 pitches and here he was coming back. That gave me the chills. He was such a great competitor, and one of the best in the history of the game.”
With Johnson going into the Hall of Fame this weekend, Counsell took time to reflect on his teammate during that World Series ride.
“It’s an honor well deserved,” he said. “I was proud to be his teammates and to say I played on a team with a Hall of Famer.”
Counsell’s contribution to the Diamondbacks World Series victory was just one of two championship moments.
In the 1997 World Series, Counsell scored the winning run in game seven for Miami to secure a title win over Cleveland. He was also named the MVP of the 2001 National League Championship Series. Here, Counsell hit .381 in the Diamondbacks’ five-game series win over the Braves.
Though Counsell played in the major leagues with Milwaukee, Miami, the Dodgers, Rockies and Diamondbacks, it was the years in Arizona that seem to be the most triumphant.
“It was great to play baseball in Phoenix in those years,” he said. “The World Series team was a team of veterans and All-Stars and the fans really responded. In those years, Steve Nash (of the NBA Suns) was doing his thing, but baseball, and the Diamondbacks, was the ‘it’ thing.”
HALL OF FAME WEEKEND
On Saturday in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks will honor Randy Johnson with a Hall of Fame bobble head giveaway. Game starts at 5:10 p.m.
For Sunday, the gates to Chase Field will open at 11:00 a.m. instead of the usual 11:30 a.m. This is to accommodate fans who wish to watch Johnson’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
During the next home stand on August 7 and 8, Johnson’s Hall of Fame plaque from Cooperstown will be on displayed in Chase Field. The plaque returns to Cooperstown on Aug. 10.