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NLCS Notebook: Counsell Arizona's version of Rudy

Thursday, October 18, 2001

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Though he won't talk about it publicly, Craig Counsell's nickname is Rudy.

It's not surprising considering he is a scrappy underdog who went to Notre Dame.

But there's a big difference between Counsell and Rudy Ruettiger, a Notre Dame walk-on football player who is now a motivational speaker.

A movie was made about the real Rudy because he fulfilled a dream by playing in a game. Counsell has a World Series ring from his days with the Marlins in 1997, and he's amazing the nonbelievers with his contributions to the Diamondbacks this year.

"There are players with 10 times more talent that have no idea what they're doing," Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling said. "Craig knows how to get where he needs to be."

That's a view shared by Randy Johnson, who said if a father took a son to watch a game they should focus on watching Counsell.

"He plays the game hard," Johnson said. "He plays the game right. I think that truly inspires a lot of people on this team."

Counsell, who scored the winning run in the 1997 World Series against the Cleveland Indians, keeps his ring at home in a closet. He is the only Diamondbacks player with such a trophy. Some experts figured Arizona couldn't win the West, or even get to the NL Championship Series with Counsell in the middle of the infield, but he's not offended by such talk.

"I enjoy having to prove myself," said Counsell, who started at shortstop last night in Game 2. "It's what motivates me. It makes me keep trying to get better because I know they're always looking for guys with more speed and more power."

Whatever his physical limitations, he won't get down.

"I've come to the realization there are other ways to contribute to winning baseball. Maybe it's called paying attention," Counsell said.

Perhaps more than anybody else, his teammates appreciate Counsell's blue-collar approach to the game.

"He's a coal miner, he's got a lantern on his forehead," Mark Grace said.

Counsell was moved to shortstop last night because Tony Womack's right calf was injured in the game Tuesday and because Womack had one only hit in 13 career at-bats against Braves starter Tom Glavine. Former Pirate Jay Bell started at second base.

Mutual admiration

Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the two most dominating pitchers in the National League, have developed a mutual admiration.

After his complete game shutout in Game 1, Johnson said he was amazed at the way Schilling shut down the St. Louis Cardinals in Games 1 and 5 of the division playoff.

"He says I raised the bar for him," Johnson said. "After watching him pitch the two games that he pitched, he's raised the bar for me now in postseason."

Schilling will start Game 3 tomorrow in Atlanta.

Cox undecided

Braves Manager Bobby Cox still is undecided about whether to bring Greg Maddux back on three days' rest and go with a three-man rotation in the NLCS. If he does, Maddux would follow John Burkett and pitch Saturday.

"We're going to play it game to game, and I can't even tell you what would sway me," Cox said. "He's ready to go."

Not counting an intentional walk and pitchouts, Maddux's pitch count was under 90 in his seven-inning outing Tuesday.

"He's had six days' rest going in, so he'll be ready," Cox said.

A player's manager

John Burkett, who faces Schilling tomorrow night, praised Bobby Cox for the way he handles the pitching staff and bullpen, calling him a "player's manager."

"I think he's the ultimate," Burkett said. "He pretty much lets us go out there and play.There's a few rules on the team, but I think for the most part he lets everybody do what they need to do and everybody does what they need to do to get ready."

Asked what being a player's manager is, Cox laughed: "I've tried to answer that forever and I still don't know. Probably if you're winner, you're a player's manager. If you're losing, they don't like you too much."

Tough price to pay

There was still some fallout over the crowd size for the first NLCS game played in Phoenix -- 11,304 short of capacity and the smallest crowd in 20 years for such an event. Sixteen times during the regular season, the Diamondbacks drew more than the 37,729 they attracted for Game 1.

"I guess seeing what [Jerry] Colangelo had done, it's disappointing that the fans haven't turned out more," Schilling said. "With everything that's going on in the last four, five or six weeks, I guess there's some understanding. But it would be nice to have a packed and a loud house,"

But fans cited another reason to staying away, aside from a sluggish economy, that it was a day game and the Diamondbacks, just 4 years old, haven't developed much of a tradition yet.

Under prices set by Major League Baseball, upper deck tickets that cost $13 during the season and $15 for division series now go for $38. A $26 lower level seat costs $80 in the NLCS. An $11 lower level bleacher seat is priced at $50.

"I can't afford those kinds of prices. And they wonder why ticket sales are sluggish," Diamondbacks fan Larry Conrad told The Arizona Republic. "I will have to stay home and watch it on TV."

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