Monday, July 3, 2006

Chris Coste
Chris Coste during a spring training exhibition
game at Citizens Bank Park.

At 33 years old, Chris Coste is a five-time All-Star who is coming off of a great month of June in which he hit at an impressive .333 clip.

But you've never heard of the rookie.

Coste was born on February 4, 1973 in Fargo, North Dakota. He made his Major League debut on May 27, 2006, a culmination of years of toiling in the lowest depths of the Minor Leagues, toiling just to hear the phone call he received on May 21. The call that told him he would finally make it to "the show."

Looking at the 25-man roster the Philadelphia Phillies had going into the 2006 season, it is understandable why Coste did not make the team out of spring training (though he expected to), despite hitting .463 with 3 HR and 11 RBI and being about as clutch as David Ortiz in 41 at-bats. He was listed on the catching depth chart behind Mike Lieberthal, who has long been the starting catcher of the Philadelphia Phillies, Sal Fasano, a veteran who was signed specifically to handle the younger arms in the rotation, as well as a few of the young catching prospects in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre such as Carlos Ruiz. Even Coste knew the chips would have to fall correctly in place for him to make it to the Major Leagues.

Fortunately for Coste, the chips did fall in place. Mike Lieberthal strained his left hip and was placed on the disabled list on May 7, pushing Fasano into the starting role, and promoting Ruiz into the backup role. Ruiz, however, did not perform well in 14 games, hitting only .143 with one RBI, and was subsequently sent back down to the Minor Leagues.

Chris Coste
Chris Coste at third base.

Backup infielder Alex Gonzalez retired, making room for Coste to move up and Ruiz down, along with outfielder Chris Roberson, to make room for centerfielder Aaron Rowand, who was put on the disabled list following a faceplant into the wall to save three runs.

And he got the phone call. "I was sitting in my bed waiting to wake up from a dream," Coste said. "I drove between 55 [mph] and 83 the whole way."

Coste, who grew up hitting rocks with a bat and throwing tennis balls at his steps, whose home state of North Dakota did not have baseball in high school, now has his own Major League uniform with his last name neatly sewn above his number 27, a uniform that hangs in a Major League clubhouse at a Major League ballpark. To say that Coste, who has spent fifteen years in the Minor Leagues, is enjoying his time -- limited time -- in "the show" is a vast understatement.

"I don't have a lot of years left. I still feel like I'm a good player, but my body doesn't do some of the things it used to," Coste said. "I've always said that if I ever do make it to the big leagues, it will mean that much more because of the stuff I've experienced, things like playing in independent leagues that no longer exist, riding on a bus for 20 hours that then runs out of gas, all those little things that make you appreciate it more."

Coste got his first Major League hit and RBI on June 16 in a 10-4 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He has yet to hit a homerun, and with his once-a-week start, it may be a nicety that will elude Coste. But with a batting stance and swing that look like something out of a cartoon, with fifteen years of Minor League service and 34 Major League at-bats, for the three-time Northern League Division and two-time Independent League All-Star, it is only a matter of time, just like everything else for Chris Coste.