The 33-Year-Old Rookie: My 13-Year Journey from the Minor Leagues to the World Series

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9780345507037: The 33-Year-Old Rookie: My 13-Year Journey from the Minor Leagues to the World Series

Chris Coste dreamed of playing major-league baseball from the age of seven. But after eleven grueling years in the minors, a spot on a major-league roster still seemed just out of his reach–until that fateful call came from the Philadelphia Phillies in May 2006. At age thirty-three (“going on eighty”), Coste was finally heading to the big time. The 33-Year-Old Rookie is a real-life Rocky, an unforgettable and inspirational story of one man’s unwavering pursuit of a lifelong goal. Beginning in a single-parent home in Fargo, North Dakota, and ending behind home plate on the flawless diamond of the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park–where fans and teammates call him “Chris Clutch” because of his knack for getting timely hits–this intimate account of Coste’s baseball odyssey is a powerful story of determination, perseverance, and passion.

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About the Author:

Chris Coste was an All-American at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and played five seasons in various independent leagues before finally getting a shot with the Cleveland Indians’ organization in 2000. From there, he moved to the minor league systems of the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Coste was awarded the 2006 Dallas Green Award for Special Achievement and the 2007 Media Good Guy Award in the Philadelphia area. He lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with his wife, Marcia, and their daughter, Casey.

www.christcoste.com
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Spring Training 2006

SPRING training did not get off to a promising start. And this was even before I so much as strapped on my shin guards.

I arrived in Clearwater, Florida, in February 2006 with the rest of the pitchers and catchers for my second spring with the Phillies. My only hope to put myself on the club’s radar, as in each of the other four spring camps I’d attended, was to prove that I could catch at the major-league level. Going in, I knew that Philadelphia had its two catchers in Mike Lieberthal and Sal Fasano, and there was nothing I could do to take either one’s spot on the twenty-five-man roster for opening day. The most that a player in my position could hope for was to make enough of a positive impression that if someone went down during the season, I might get called up.

After pulling into the parking lot of the Hampton Inn in our rental car, Marcia, Casey, and I got out and began unpacking the car. I went straight to the trunk for the heavy bags and was dubiously greeted by one of the small Florida birds. I felt something soft and wet hit my head and couldn’t believe what had just happened.

“Mommy!” yelled Casey with exhilarating laughter in her voice. “Did you see that? A birdie just flew by and pooped on Daddy’s head!” My sixyear-old daughter could barely contain her laughter at seeing her big and strong daddy getting pooped on the head by a tiny bird. Marcia didn’t know whether to laugh or not because she was unsure how I would react. I normally have a good sense of humor, but to have a bird poop on your head certainly is not a pleasant experience. Fortunately, seeing the joy and laughter on Casey’s face made me instantly realize that it was funny.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought to myself. My first instinct was that a bird pooping on my head was not a good way to begin spring training.

No sooner had we settled into our hotel room than I received a phone call from Steve Noworyta, the Phillies’ director of minor-league operations. Simply put, he’s like the general manager of the organization’s minor-league teams and oversees all of its minor-league players.

“Hi, Chris,” he said in a concerned tone. “Are you in Clearwater already?”

“Yes.” Why wouldn’t I be? I thought.

“Oh . . .” He sighed an ominous sigh. “Well, I guess we had a bit of a miscommunication. We didn’t want you to show up with the pitchers and catchers, we wanted you to show up next week with the position players. As of right now, it looks like you will play mostly first or third base in triple-A. But since you are already here, I guess you can show up tomorrow and help catch some bullpens and stuff like that.”

To put it mildly, I was pissed off. I had hoped to prove to anyone who would pay attention that I was a good catcher. I knew it, my teammates knew it, and virtually every pitcher who’d ever thrown to me always had great comments regarding my catching ability. By no means was I another Johnny Bench, but they always praised my game calling, my soft hands, my ability to catch the low pitch for a strike, and how I always gave a great target. Over the years, many pitchers had remarked, “Chris, I stare in at your glove, and it’s like I can’t help but throw a perfect strike into it!”
In fact, many of my batterymates had gone to the manager and requested that I catch them in their next start. All catching instructors preach the importance of earning the pitchers’ confidence. “A catcher may be able to hit great, block every ball, and throw every guy out trying to steal, but the only thing that matters is if the pitching staff likes throwing to him,” they’ll stress. “If a pitcher insists that you catch him, that is the best compliment you can receive. And it is that kind of catcher that will not only get to the big leagues but stay there.”

Well, I was that kind of catcher. So why hadn’t I made it?

One reason, I’m pretty sure, was that my ability to play other positions actually undermined my career, in a way. What was my best position? Catcher? First base? Third base? It was always a mystery to them. I always considered myself a catcher who could play elsewhere if needed. However, the decision makers inevitably mistook me for a utility man who could play multiple positions–with catching being just one of them. It seems similar, right? But in the world of professional baseball, there’s a huge difference between the two perceptions. The term utility player tends to refer to guys who play shortstop and second base, maybe third base, too. No team will put its trust in a catcher who is not primarily a catcher.

So to hear that the Phillies had no plans for me to catch during spring training made no sense to me. And they wanted me at first base, of all positions? They had to be kidding. Ryan Howard, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, played there. All he did in 2005 was hit .288 with 22 homers and 63 RBIs in just half a season.

I hung up the phone in disgust.

“What did you expect?” my wife asked. “Did you really think things were ever going to be easy for you? This is totally par for the course.”

“I really hoped the Phillies would be different,” I replied. “And I’m thirty-three, Marcia. Time is more than running out. If they won’t give me the chance to prove I can catch, I will never make it. Catching is my only hope. They will never call me up as an infielder, especially not at first base.”

No one understood what I had gone through more than Marcia. As many times as I had received great comments from pitchers over the years, oddly enough, she also received the same kind of comments from pitchers’ wives. “Is your husband catching tomorrow?” a wife would ask. “My husband is pitching tomorrow and he loves it when Chris catches.” She heard things like that on a regular basis.

Her response was usually the same as my response to the pitcher. “He loves to catch, but your husband needs to tell that to the manager or the pitching coach–they are the only ones who will listen,” Marcia would say. I had almost taught her word for word what to say when a wife would say these things to her. The typical response from the wife was that her husband had gone into the manager’s office on several occasions and told him that I should be catching.

HERE’S how you know you’re a long shot to crack the opening day roster: When I reported to training camp, I was handed a uniform with a big red 67 on the back. Generally, the higher your number, the lower your status. I also took note that my locker was on the “hopeless” side of the locker room with all the other players destined for the minors. Or oblivion.

I decided to use my frustration as motivation. It may have been only spring training, but I approached every catching drill as though I were preparing for the World Series. Just as important, each and every day I was in Charlie Manuel’s ear, reminding him that catching was my best position. He knew I could hit: In 2002, when he was managing the Indians, I batted .318, 8 HR, 67 RBI for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons and was named team MVP; the previous spring, Charlie’s first as Phillies skipper, I hit at a .313 clip. Now I had to prove to him that I was good defensively. “Just keep your eyes open,” I’d say before morning workouts. “I promise I will surprise you.” He wouldn’t reply, just smile and nod, as if to say, “Okay, go prove it.”

One other factor would make this spring training difficult: It was the first spring that I would be mostly on my own, as Marcia and Casey had to leave the following week. In previous years, they had accompanied me throughout the entire baseball season. But with Casey now in first grade, she could no longer miss so much school. We would all have to try to get used to seeing each other for short stints up until school let out in June.

Through the first weeks of spring training, I knew I was making a bit of a statement. Three days before our first official spring training game, against the New York Yankees, the team’s main catching instructor, Mick Billmeyer, approached me with some positive words. “Coastey,” he said, “after watching you catch bullpens, seeing you in our catching drills, and going by what the pitchers are saying about you, I have been telling Charlie every day that I think you can catch in the big leagues. He also asks about you every day and tells me to keep an eye on you because he wants to know how good of a catcher you really are. He knows you can hit, and he definitely wants to give you a shot at catching in some spring training games. So be ready, you might actually get a chance to impress him.” Mick, a former catcher, seemed empathetic, perhaps because he’d languished in the minors for eight seasons before turning to coaching in the 1990s.

“Also,” he continued, “Carlos Ruiz will be gone for a while to catch for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, so that should also allow you to slip in and catch some innings.” Ruiz had a lock on the starting catcher’s job at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and figured to put in a lot of time behind the plate during the spring. With him away to participate in the first-ever international baseball tournament, I’d get a few extra innings to show what I could do.

That brief exchange with Mick Billmeyer improved my outlook dramatically. Whether it was a coincidence or not, later that day I really put myself on the map as far as the Phillies were concerned. I got a chance to take live batting practice off Scott Mathieson, a hard-throwing righthander from Vancouver whose fastball had been clocked as high as ninety-nine miles an hour in double-A the previous season. He’d just turned twenty-two and was viewed by many as a can’t-miss prospect. Scott had been tossing bullpen sessions in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, slated to begin the first week of March; I was selected as one of the hitters to face him in his final practice before leaving to join his Canadian teammates. (Several other members of the Phillies would be going to the games, held in the U.S., Japan, and Puerto Rico, including Chase Utley, Philadelphia’s representative on the American team.)

Excited at the opportunity to face live pitching, I was also a little nervous–especially after I glanced behind the batting cage and saw Charlie Manuel standing next to most of the Phillies’ brain trust. There was new general manager Pat Gillick; Ruben Amaro Jr., the assistant GM; and Gillick’s special advisor, Dallas Green, the man who’d managed Philadelphia to its only World Championship, back in 1980. If I was going to open some eyes, this would definitely be an opportune moment to shine. Maybe my only moment.

As I stepped into the batter’s box, catcher Dusty Wathan lifted up his mask and said with a sigh, “Don’t you just hate these live batting practice sessions? Especially against a guy with a fastball like Mathieson’s?”

“Not really,” I said. “I kind of like this stuff.” Most hitters dreaded taking live batting practice off their teammates, for a couple of reasons. One, they don’t like to compete against one of their own, and, two, suddenly the ball is coming in much faster at a time when their reflexes and bat speed aren’t ready for gamelike activity. Me, I’d always enjoyed it, in part because I was good at it. Batting practice is the only time when the pitcher tells the hitter what pitches are coming. Also, there’s really nothing to lose. Either you hit the ball hard, impressing everyone; or you don’t hit the ball hard, and people think you’re not really trying because you don’t like to hit off your team’s own pitchers.

Scott’s first pitch blew by me at around ninety-five miles per hour, according to the radar gun, but high and out of the zone. As it snapped into the catcher’s mitt, I heard Charlie Manuel’s distinctive West Virginia drawl: “How ’bout that Scott Mathieson? He’s throwin’ some heat today. Be careful, Coste!”

I looked back at Charlie, and in my best southern accent, said, “Gotta hit, Charlie,” one of his pet phrases. He’d spent several years as the Cleveland Indians’ hitting coach, and he loves guys who can hit. He’ll walk through the clubhouse, saying to all the hitters, “Gotta hit, son! Gotta hit!”

“All right, then,” he replied, a wide grin on his face. “Go hit him, son! Gotta hit!”

I have always prided myself on being able to hit any fastball. If I know it’s coming, I’ll catch up to it, regardless of its speed. As Mathieson released the next pitch, I gripped the bat tight and let it fly, rocketing the ball at least fifty feet over the fence in left-center field. “How about that Chris Coste!” Charlie exclaimed with a small laugh under his breath. “Be careful out there, Mathieson!”

Next Scott hummed a fastball middle-in, and once again I brought the bat around and sent it over the left-field wall, this time by some seventy-five feet. Dallas Green, once a Phillies pitcher himself, yelled out, “Wow, Charlie, it looks like Coste brought his quick hands with him this year!”

“Well, he did hit twenty bombs last year in Scranton,” the manager responded. I whipped around and looked at Charlie, pleasantly surprised that he knew my stats. The twenty home runs in 2005 was a career high for me. He gave me a quick wink, and I stepped back into the batter’s box. Before I was finished, I’d cracked several more solid hits, including a few that disappeared over the fence. The Grapefruit League games, set to start in a few days, were the real tryouts, of course. Still, I drove back to the Hampton Inn that afternoon satisfied that I’d forced the team’s decision-makers to notice me.

Two days later we held an intrasquad game so that some of the pitchers could get in an inning of work against hitters in a gamelike setting, and the rest of us could get acclimated to game-speed situations. We were all looking forward to the games, which would put an end to days spent practicing the same drills over and over: blocking balls in the dirt, throwing to bases, fielding bunts and pop flies. Five minutes before the intrasquad contest, I stood in the dugout, expecting to watch it from the bench. Gary Varsho, the bench coach, came up to me and asked, “Hey, Coastey, do you have your first baseman’s mitt out here?” On my own time at the end of each day, I’d been taking infield practice with some of the minor-league coaches in camp.

“I’ve got all my gloves, Varsh,” trying to remind him how versatile I was.

“Well, go get it. You’re playing first base.”

“Um... right now?” I assumed he meant that I would fill in at first toward the end of the game.

“Yes, right now!” he answered.

To be honest, I felt a bit startled and unprepared. Ryan Howard was scheduled to play first base. Ordinarily, he would have gotten two or three at-bats, then maybe I or someone else would take over in the sixth or seventh inning. I unloaded a mouthful of sunflower seeds–the ballplayer’s chewing tobacco of the twenty-first century–scrambled to find my hat, and yanked out my dusty old first baseman’s mitt from the bottom of my catcher’s bag. I searched around for some sunglasses, then out to first base I trotted, excited not to be sitting on the bench for three hours like the other minor leaguers from my si...

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Coste, Chris
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Descripción Random House USA Inc, India, 2009. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Chris Coste dreamed of playing major-league baseball from the age of seven. But after eleven grueling years in the minors, a spot on a major-league roster still seemed just out of his reach-until that fateful call came from the Philadelphia Phillies in May 2006. At age thirty-three ( going on eighty ), Coste was finally heading to the big time. The 33-Year-Old Rookie is a real-life Rocky, an unforgettable and inspirational story of one man s unwavering pursuit of a lifelong goal. Beginning in a single-parent home in Fargo, North Dakota, and ending behind home plate on the flawless diamond of the Phillies Citizens Bank Park-where fans and teammates call him Chris Clutch because of his knack for getting timely hits-this intimate account of Coste s baseball odyssey is a powerful story of determination, perseverance, and passion. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780345507037

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, India, 2009. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Chris Coste dreamed of playing major-league baseball from the age of seven. But after eleven grueling years in the minors, a spot on a major-league roster still seemed just out of his reach-until that fateful call came from the Philadelphia Phillies in May 2006. At age thirty-three ( going on eighty ), Coste was finally heading to the big time. The 33-Year-Old Rookie is a real-life Rocky, an unforgettable and inspirational story of one man s unwavering pursuit of a lifelong goal. Beginning in a single-parent home in Fargo, North Dakota, and ending behind home plate on the flawless diamond of the Phillies Citizens Bank Park-where fans and teammates call him Chris Clutch because of his knack for getting timely hits-this intimate account of Coste s baseball odyssey is a powerful story of determination, perseverance, and passion. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780345507037

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, India, 2009. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Chris Coste dreamed of playing major-league baseball from the age of seven. But after eleven grueling years in the minors, a spot on a major-league roster still seemed just out of his reach-until that fateful call came from the Philadelphia Phillies in May 2006. At age thirty-three ( going on eighty ), Coste was finally heading to the big time. The 33-Year-Old Rookie is a real-life Rocky, an unforgettable and inspirational story of one man s unwavering pursuit of a lifelong goal. Beginning in a single-parent home in Fargo, North Dakota, and ending behind home plate on the flawless diamond of the Phillies Citizens Bank Park-where fans and teammates call him Chris Clutch because of his knack for getting timely hits-this intimate account of Coste s baseball odyssey is a powerful story of determination, perseverance, and passion. Nº de ref. de la librería BZV9780345507037

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