Scott Paulus \ Milwaukee Brewers
If you watched any of the Milwaukee Brewers games broadcast on Fox Sports Wisconsin last week, you probably noticed players smiling more than they did the entire month of April. That’s what a change at the top can do.
Forty-four-year-old Craig Counsell officially took over the team on May 4, about 12 hours after news broke that embattled fifth-year manager Ron Roenicke was fired. Counsell had played for the Brewers in 2004 and again from 2007 to 2011, then served as assistant to general manager Doug Melvin.
Counsell, now one-and-a-half weeks into his tenure as Milwaukee’s 18th manager since the team’s inception in 1970, still looks like a kid in the dugout. He gives “attaboys” and he smiles. In other words, he’s the anti-Ron.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez worked a perfect ninth inning to secure a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at home in Counsell’s managerial debut, then flipped the game ball to his beaming new skipper in the high-five line. The Crew rallied late against L.A. ace Clayton Kershaw to make it Milwaukee’s most memorable victory of the season.
“You could see it, you could feel it, you could sense it. It was a special energy tonight,” outfielder Ryan Braun told reporters after the game. “It had an atmosphere we hadn’t been a part of for a very long time.”
The Brewers were the worst team in Major League Baseball at 7-18 when Counsell took over. As of Tuesday night, that record had improved slightly, to make them the second-worst team in baseball at 12-22, a combination of dramatic come-from-behind and walk-off wins and crushing 10-run and 1-run defeats.
Through it all, the new manager has shown a refreshing sense of scrappiness and stubbornness that recalls his playing days, when 10-pitch at bats were not uncommon for him.
“Every play is important,” Counsell said after falling short to the Chicago Cubs, 7-6, last Friday, referring to a game-changing play in which rookie sensation Kris Bryant beat out a routine groundball that drove in Chicago’s winning run. “If you want to win games, you’ve got to commit to every out being important, no matter the score.”
Here’s hoping this Brewers team still cares as much as its new manager.