Counsell's return to Milwaukee includes thank-you message and chorus of boos

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Craig Counsell’s first game at American Family Field since the Chicago Cubs hired him away from Milwaukee included a warm scoreboard message and multiple rounds of hearty boos.

A brief pregame video showcased some highlights from Counsell’s tenure as a player and manager with Milwaukee before displaying him wearing a Brewers cap alongside the message, “Thank You No. 30.” Brewers fans booed throughout the video, and then booed again when he was introduced as the Cubs’ manager and each time he left the dugout during Chicago’s 5-1 loss.

“Look, cheer, boo, whatever, man,” Counsell said before the game when asked about what kind of reception he expected. “Just have a good time at the game. That’s what fans get to do. Just have a good time. It’s Memorial Day. You don’t have to work today. Let’s all have a good time.”

Counsell did receive a little applause from the substantial portion of Cubs fans in attendance — Cubs-Brewers games in Milwaukee generally have a pretty even split of supporters for both teams — but the cheers were drowned out by the boos.

“I think the fans are here to enjoy a day and enjoy a baseball game,” Counsell said after the game. “They get to do what they want. Hopefully they had a good time.”

Counsell managed the Brewers to five playoff appearances over the last six seasons and set franchise records in wins and games managed before the Cubs lured him away with a five-year deal worth more than $40 million.

This wasn’t the first time Counsell had managed against his former team — the Cubs won two of three against the Brewers at Wrigley Field from May 3-5 — but it was his first time in Milwaukee.

Ryan Hoffman, a Brewers fan from Burlington, Wisconsin, said he planned to “boo a little bit” and said he made sure to get tickets for this game because it marked Counsell’s return.

“We wanted to be here for this, make sure we let our opinion be heard a little bit,” Hoffman said.

Counsell had managed the Brewers since May 2015, leading the franchise on its greatest run of sustained success while posting a 707-625 record. Pat Murphy, who managed Counsell during his college career at Notre Dame and later served as his longtime bench coach in Milwaukee, replaced him as the Brewers’ manager.

“Twenty years from now, we’ll all look back at this and Craig will be recognized as a big part of the Brewers,” Murphy said before the game. “What he feels today, he’ll go through a lot of emotions, but he’s getting his ballclub ready to compete.”

Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich downplayed the hoopla surrounding the manager’s return to Milwaukee. This four-game series also pits the NL Central’s top teams against each other; the Brewers lead the Cubs by 4½ games.

“Obviously a lot of good memories here with Couns,” the 2018 NL MVP said. “In our minds, it’s no different than a player leaving in free agency. He earned the right to do what he wanted to do, go to the highest bidder. I’m happy for him. I’ve still got a great relationship with him.”

Plenty of Brewers fans weren’t nearly as forgiving.

“People feel betrayed,” Jake Starck, of East Troy, Wisconsin, said while wearing a Brewers Jackson Chourio jersey. “I get it. Go get your money. Go do what you want to do. But there’s a whole rivalry. He grew up here. I just feel it’s going to be this way for a while.”

Counsell’s ties to Milwaukee preceded his managerial tenure.

He grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, as the son of former Brewers director of community affairs John Counsell. The former second baseman played for the Brewers in 2004 and again from 2007-11.

Counsell was asked Monday if he had ever envisioned making this kind of move before he actually left the Brewers for Chicago.

“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. I don’t make plans like that. You’ve got to take the ride of life, man, and see what happens. This is not something I necessarily expected to happen, but you’ve got to jump on the ride and go.”

Counsell's background made it particularly painful for Brewers fans when he left for a division rival just 90 miles away. Counsell said he understands why some fans might have been angry.

“It’s not my job to tell people how to feel about something,” he said. “Figure it out, let people feel how they want to feel, and I’m good with it. I think it doesn’t have to be all positive.

"We’re in a public job. We’re in a job with fans. Fans are allowed to feel however they want to feel. ... It bothers you initially, of course. Some things that happen bother you, for sure. But as it goes on, some of it’s, you’re a fan and you get to feel how you want to feel. You’re entitled to that as a fan. I’m good with that, I think that’s part of it and it’s part of what makes sports fun.”