Counsell a nice fit on a contending roster

Mar 1 2011 - 5:17pm

PHOENIX -- With Major League Baseball's decision a few years ago to finally do something about steroids and amphetamines, another side effect, if you will, is gradually being visited upon the game.

For all the reasons you'd suspect, the players are getting younger.

Until recently, it wasn't unusual to see more than a few members of the 40-plus set still making a living from a relentless sport. Now, they're almost as rare as a triple play.

With 48-year-old Jamie Moyer trying to convince himself that he'll be back after Tommy John surgery, among the remaining notable graybeards are Tim Wakefield (44), Omar Vizquel (43) and Mariano Rivera (41).

And then there is utility infielder/pinch-hitter Craig Counsell, who, like the waves that lap up on the Lake Michigan shore near his Whitefish Bay, Wis., home, just keeps on a-rollin'.

"I don't have any magic," said Counsell, who turns 41 in August. "There's no secret workout. I'm not going to tell you I'm in the best shape of my life.

"I just do what I think is right and what has worked. So far, it's working. Nobody's told me I can't play yet."

Actually, Counsell isn't even the oldest player on the Brewers' roster. New reliever Takashi Saito hit the big 4-1 last week. But Counsell is by far the most popular player on the team without a defined role.

As much as Milwaukeeans revere their Brewers, they absolutely adore their own. Counsell's re-signing for one more year in late December didn't set off the fireworks that accompanied Zack Greinke's waiving of his no-trade clause a couple of days prior, but it did result in a moderate case of the warm fuzzies.

The 2011 season will be Counsell's fifth consecutive season with the Brewers, and his sixth in two go-rounds with his hometown team. A stable home life for his wife and four children is priceless, but it wasn't as if Counsell had automatically decided to re-up just for the short commute.

"One of the things, from my perspective, is the team really trying to win? If you're not, for a guy in my position, it's not as meaningful because they're always going to play the younger player just because he's younger," he said.

"So for me, the Greinke trade was the thing that convinced me. Now I know that winning the game is the No. 1 thing. That was important. It was important to see they were going to make the effort to do that.

"Then you know your role is meaningful. We're trying to win. The players who help us win are the players who are going to contribute."

If you know how Counsell is going to contribute this season, do him a favor and drop him an e-mail. Even he isn't sure.

"And that's fine," he said. "I don't think about it. I don't worry about it. I just get ready to play. Whatever I'm asked to do is what I end up doing."

It's convenient to speculate that the Brewers still want him around in case the new shortstop, Yuniesky Betancourt, bombs. But Counsell said that would be an incorrect assumption because he and Doug Melvin were having contract discussions before the general manager knew for sure he was going to remit Alcides Escobar as partial payment for Greinke.

But when you can play multiple positions for a National League team, including a more-than-serviceable shortstop at age 40, that makes for a nice fit on a contending roster.

Then there's home.

"That's a huge part of it," Counsell said. "I'm not going to lie. The guys on the team tell me how lucky I am. So you know you've got a good thing. Driving home 15 minutes after a game instead of to a rented apartment is a significant positive."

And that would be a double play, the easy way.

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