PHOENIX – When Pat Murphy first met Craig Counsell in the late 1980s, he never envisioned the journey they would have together.
The two met while Counsell, now the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, was still in high school, and their journey started after Murphy, now Counsell’s bench coach, went to watch Counsell work out in, of course, Milwaukee.
When Murphy was the head coach for the baseball program at Notre Dame from 1988-1994, he used one of his very limited scholarships to recruit Counsell first.
After almost 30 years of a strong friendship, the the two appear to make a strong baseball pairing.
“It’s been incredible to watch what he did and the way he did it,” former Arizona State coach Murphy said about Counsell’s baseball journey. “You could write a story just on his work ethic and his approach to his game in college and how he got better every single year.”
“I met him when he was 17. I could see his work ethic and his passion to play. He had to put up with a lot of stuff early but I think he sensed from my heart that it was coming from the right place.”
While Counsell was successful at Notre Dame and the team won three conference tournament championships with Counsell on the roster, something that impressed Murphy the most about his player was his work ethic during practice, and not just during games.
Murphy recalls one of his favorite memories of Counsell at Notre Dame and how it led to a trip to the hospital.
“He revealed early on who he was,” Murphy said. “He was fielding ground balls one day, I hit one ground ball, it took a bad hop, hit him in the nose and it actually broke his nose. It was bleeding profusely and we got him to the hospital as soon as possible. Sure enough, two hours later he was back at practice wanting to take more ground balls, and that’s when I said, ‘We got something special here.’ ”
This was just one of many instances that reinforced Murphy’s confidence in Counsell at the college level, but he knew his player could succeed at a higher level as well.
“To see him excel at the major league level, you knew what to expect out of him,” Murphy said. “He was amazingly consistent. Any manager that managed him I’m sure could say that you could trust him.”
As the years passed, the two kept in touch and were able to maintain a friendship that they both valued.
“We just kept our relationship going,” Murphy said. “He happened to end up in Phoenix (with the Diamondbacks) and we just kept talking all the time. I enjoyed listening to what was going on with him.”
Counsell also expressed how he cherishes their friendship, and recalls how baseball fate grouped them together again in the desert.
“The first time we met was in Milwaukee,” Counsell said. “I was a high school junior or senior and he eventually went to Arizona State and we just kind of always stayed in touch. When I was in Arizona for all these years we became pretty good friends because we’d see each other a lot.”
Murphy coached 15 seasons in Tempe, leading ASU to the College World Series four times. His teams were consistently in the Top 25.
One would think that after knowing each other for about 30 years, the two would have a lot to talk about besides baseball, but it seems like that will always be their favorite subject.
“We always just talk baseball,” Murphy said. “It’s funny, after time you end up talking about a whole bunch of other things but we always just got to baseball, and there were long conversations.”
Counsell echoed the baseball talk sentiment.
“It’s been really a baseball conversation that’s continued over the last 30 years now,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about the game and I know how he thinks.”
The pair are starting their third season together in Milwaukee this year and expect many more together.
Counsell enjoys having Murphy on the Brewers staff and is happy with the experience he brings to the table.
The long-standing professional friendship between Murphy and Counsell has helped create complete baseball harmony for the entire staff.
“In a lot of ways what I think Pat does the best here with us is he brings a complementary set of skills,” Counsell said. “Some things that he’s good at that I’m not as good at, and I take advantage of that.”
Murphy is certainly happy that they have the opportunity to work together again with the Brewers, something he won’t take for granted.
“It was natural for us to come together, and I’m real thankful about it,” he said.” We just have that good solid relationship and he knew I had his best interest at heart.”