How St. Charles native Cousins landed a spot in the Brewers' bullpen
MILWAUKEE -- Let's get the awkward part of this story out of the way first:
Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jake Cousins is the cousin of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"He's a great guy to lean on for advice and all that kind of stuff," Jake said of cousin Kirk. "When I was in high school, every Saturday we'd be going to Michigan State games, playing in the Big Ten, so traveling around, which was awesome."
Jake Cousins is a St. Charles native and Wheaton Academy grad who made his major league debut last Monday in Arizona. Heading into Monday night's game against the Cubs, Cousins had not given up a hit in two appearances for the Brewers, with 9 strikeouts in 4 innings.
It's been an interesting journey. Cousins played college baseball in the Ivy League at Penn, was drafted and released by the Washington Nationals, and played for both the Schaumburg Boomers and Chicago Dogs before reaching the majors.
He also wasn't throwing 97 miles per hour until recently. But good health, hard work and a switch from starter to reliever was the formula that got him to Milwaukee.
"I don't know, couldn't tell you," Cousins said when asked why he's throwing harder. "I've been throwing that (velocity) for a year and a half now. It's like 95-97, every once in a while I'll throw 98 if I get lucky. Sinker, slider, four-seams up and in -- whatever the situation calls for, I feel comfortable with the pitches I've got."
In high school, Cousins didn't pitch a lot and Wheaton Academy athletic director and former baseball coach Brad Byrne explained why.
"We had him running center field and pitching," Byrne said. "Had a little bit of trouble because he was growing, had a little bit of back trouble. Some of that was just a growth spurt. He was 6-3 when he was a sophomore in high school.
"He didn't pitch enough for us. We were trying to maximize having him on the field and we didn't want to have any issues with his back or anything like that."
After four years at Penn, where he got a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (that's one major, not three), he was drafted in the 20th round by Washington in 2017, but released after two injury shortened seasons.
He came home, rehabbed a shoulder issue and tried out for the Schaumburg Boomers. In just over two years, he went from an open tryout to becoming the first Boomers player to advance to the major leagues.
"It was awesome. I loved it, honestly," Cousins said of playing in Schaumburg. "That's the thing about Indy ball, the guys are there because they love baseball and they want to make it to the next level. The guys aren't getting paid much, so they're there every day because they love it and the managers are there because they love it and they want guys to get better.
"I had a ton of fun. It was great, we had a hot dog rotisserie that we'd throw hot dogs on, eat before the game and nacho cheese spread on it. It's not the kind of spread we're getting here, but it was fun. A lot of good guys."
About six weeks into that season, he got a call from the Brewers, signed a deal and made a quick rise through the minors. He was also fortunate in 2020 to land a spot with the Rosemont-based Chicago Dogs, when most minor league seasons were canceled by the pandemic.
"(The Brewers) told me, 'You're a little older (26), so we're going to push you and if you perform well, we're going to keep pushing you.' That's all I could hope for," he said."
In his debut against Arizona, Cousins struck out the first two batters he faced. Asked if he's had any "Welcome to the big league" moments yet, he said they've been never-ending.
"Literally everything," he said. "Whether it's charter planes, the food's good, all the guys are awesome. I went to some games here when I was younger. Every time you show up to the ballpark, it's 'Holy crap, this is the big leagues.' It's been fun."