Counsell learned to trust instinct early on

New Brewers manager and first-time skipper was encouraged as a player

Counsell learned to trust instinct early on

MILWAUKEE -- If you're seeking the genesis of Craig Counsell's managerial career, you'll find it in a conversation with then-Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin about baserunning a decade ago.

"I had never been given a green light to run," Counsell said, "but he always encouraged me, 'Use your instincts. That's why you're here. You'll make good decisions if you use your instincts.'

"He was always pushing me to feel the game, and to trust what I felt. Then that led to more conversations, trying to understand how he was making decisions."

Counsell referred to it as Melvin "letting me into the back room."

"We always had this dialogue that felt a little deeper, about why things happened and why he made decisions, and when he would get upset with me or the team, the reasons for it," Counsell said. "He would explain the 'why' to me a lot, without me even asking."

And sometimes, Counsell would ask.

"I don't remember anyone else actually coming to me and asking me about why I made certain moves, bullpen usage, lineup construction, all sorts of stuff he would ask me about," Melvin said. "That's when I told him, 'You're going to do this at some point in time. You watch the game like a manager. This is going to be a calling for you.'"

Counsell doesn't remember Melvin expressly predicting a second career as a manager. But Melvin made clear his level of respect after Counsell retired in 2011, extending an open offer to join Melvin's coaching staff, wherever Melvin happened to be.

Attanasio on changing managers

Family considerations kept Counsell close to his suburban Milwaukee home. He took a job as a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin (no relation to Bob) and learned the front-office side of the game before accepting an offer to replace ousted manager Ron Roenicke.

When Counsell was formally introduced as the Brewers' manager on May 4, the well-wishes poured in from around baseball. There were telephone calls, emails and -- by Counsell's count -- about 200 text messages.

One of them was from Bob Melvin.

"I think, deep down, this is what he wanted to do," Melvin said, "and this is what he'll do for a long time."

Counsell joined a growing list of Major League managers who were well-regarded as players but never coached prior to getting their big league break.

One member of that club is Rockies manager Walt Weiss, a teammate of Counsell's in Colorado during the mid-1990s. He was asked what advice he would give Counsell as he learns to manage on the job.

"Early on, lean on the people around you, but trust your instincts," Weiss said. "He's a good baseball man. It's a little different in the manager's seat. You see the game differently. You have to. But he's got great baseball instincts. He should trust them."

Ditto from White Sox manager Robin Ventura.

"He just has to be himself, not try and be somebody that he's not," Ventura said. "He's comfortable with who he is."

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus pointed to one disadvantage Counsell faces compared to the other first-timers. Instead of taking over a team during the offseason, Counsell inherited his club 25 games into a season.

That makes it "a little bit tougher," Ausmus said.

"Spring Training gives you a lot of time to institute your philosophies and ideas," Ausmus said. "It's tough to wholesale change the bunt plays. You can't completely change the team. In Spring Training, you have six weeks to do it. But he probably has a leg up on me in the sense that he's been in that organization. He knows the players. He's been around the players. He knows the Minor League players and staff. So I think there's probably much more of a comfort factor going to the ballpark every day, just being comfortable with his surroundings."

 

Slowly, Counsell has been returning the kind messages. He got through the texts this week. On Thursday, Counsell's first day off since taking over, he planned to tackle some emails.

Counsell will manage his first road game on Friday night at Citi Field.

"You know, he wasn't the biggest or the fastest or the strongest, but he knew how to beat you," said former D-backs teammate Mark Grace. "He was always in the right place at the right time.

"Good for him. He's now the manager of the team he grew up with and loved, and good for him. He deserves it."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. MLB.com reporters Jane Lee, Jason Beck, Steve Gilbert, Thomas Harding and Scott Merkin contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.