Hostile return home just part of Counsell’s ‘ride of life’

Cubs manager Craig Counsell talks to reporters before his team’s 5-1 loss at Milwaukee.
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — This felt like the most newsworthy day in Milwaukee since, I don’t know, when Laverne and Shirley first appeared on “Happy Days” maybe. Was it that big?

A large crowd of reporters began gathering in the visiting dugout 15 to 20 minutes before Craig Counsell was scheduled to talk ahead of Monday’s game. It was his first trip back to Milwaukee after spending 15 years as a Brewers player and manager.

Actually, Counsell logged more years than that with the Brewers. As a kid, his father John worked as the team’s director of community relations, so Craig spent his summers hanging around County Stadium.

There was no room for sentimental feelings on this day, though. When a brief tribute video aired before the game, fans booed loudly, even the pictures of a young Counsell posing with 80s stars Rollie Fingers and Ben Oglivie.

“Cheer, boo, whatever, man, just have a good time at the game,” Counsell said while American Family Field was still mostly empty. “That’s what fans get to do. Have a good time. It’s Memorial Day, you don’t have to go to work today, let’s all have a good time.”

When was the last time people in Milwaukee got this upset? When the drinking age went back to 21? When Brett Favre joined the Vikings? When the Pacers ran off with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game ball?

They didn’t even wait for the Counsell tribute video to voice their anger. The Cubs manager stood on the field during the national anthem, and the jeers began when he turned to walk back to the dugout, just as some poor woman was trotting to the mound to throw a first pitch.

There was certainly shock on both sides of the border when the Cubs fired David Ross in November and snagged Counsell as a free agent. There was a feeling he might leave the Brewers, but the presumed destination was the New York Mets, not the division rivals to the south.

When the news broke, a sign at Craig Counsell Park in his still-home of Whitefish Bay, Wis. was vandalized.

“Some things that happen bother you, for sure,” Counsell said. “But as it goes on, you’re a fan and you get to feel how you want to feel. I enjoy living here and that’s all still really good.”

The normally low-key Counsell gave his best response — one that seemed to channel the late, great Bill Walton — when asked if he ever thought he’d leave his hometown to manage somewhere else.

“You’ve got to take the ride of life, man, and see what happens,” Counsell said. “This was not something I necessarily expected to happen, but you’ve got to jump on the ride and go.”

For those Wisconsin natives still focused on the betrayal angle, Counsell offered some insight, saying he began thinking about trying something new when Brewers GM David Stearns left for the Mets after the 2023 season. Stearns had been on the job since Counsell’s first year managing the Brewers in 2015.

Really, though, Brewers fans have plenty of reason to be happy with how things turned out. Milwaukee sits atop the NL Central with Counsell’s bench coach Pat Murphy leading the way. One popular storyline is the Brewers have turned feistier with Murphy in charge. They’re the unofficial MLB leaders in bench-clearing episodes after it happened again in Boston over the weekend.

The Cubs are obviously in a rough stretch. The offense has taken an extended nap and the team has dropped 10 of 13 games after the Memorial Day matinee, a 5-1 loss.

Counsell revealed he tries to unwind by watching comedy, and turned on “Saturday Night Live” following the loss in St. Louis two days prior. He also relishes a challenge, something this Cubs squad has delivered so far.

“Look, life takes different turns, man,” Counsell said. “I don’t want to plan out my life forever. I want to do things that challenge me, that excite me.”

A lineup that can’t score isn’t very exciting, but a few boos from the Brew Crew aren’t going to hurt.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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