Phillies Coste pens autobiography

March 24, 2008 6:25:22 AM PDT
It is a ballplayer's long struggle to from the farm to fame.

Bats, balls, cards and caps are typical items players sign daily. Chris Coste gets to autograph his very own book, too.

Coste detailed his 11-year journey through the minor leagues in his autobiography, "The 33-Year-Old Rookie," which was released last week. So, when he isn't playing catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Coste is busy with book signings.

"The coolest moment was walking into a bookstore and seeing it there," said Coste, who saw his first copy on stands when his wife took a picture on her cell phone and texted him.

Coste wrote the book himself, spending countless hours recalling his memories and typing on his laptop during the past year. He tells a straightforward story, giving readers an opportunity to understand the obstacles and tough times minor leaguers and marginal players endure.

Despite many ups-and-downs, Coste never quit. His perseverance finally paid off when the Phillies called up him on May 21, 2006.

In the first chapter, Coste discusses his eye-opening spring training two years ago and the bitter disappointment of not making it to the bigs. Coste batted .463 with three homers only to get sent down just two days before the season opener. A dejected Coste struggled at the plate after his demotion. He was hitting just .177 when he got the call he'd waited for his entire life.

"As disappointed as I was not to make the team on opening day in '06, it couldn't have worked out any better," Coste said. "As much I would've appreciated it then, getting called up that year when it was totally unexpected made it even more special."

Once he made it, Coste proved he belonged. After going hitless in his first 13 at-bats, Coste played a key role in helping the Phillies contend for the NL wild-card spot. He hit .333 after the All-Star break and finished with seven homers and 32 RBIs while catching most of the games down the stretch as the Phillies finished short of reaching the postseason.

Still, it wasn't enough to ensure him a roster spot in 2007. The Phillies signed veteran Rod Barajas to back up rookie Carlos Ruiz, so Coste began last season in the minors. He went back-and-forth twice, before coming up for good on June 29. Coste batted .278 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 48 games.

When the Phillies clinched their first NL East championship in 14 years, Coste was behind the plate for the final out. He caught the last pitch from Brett Myers, but inadvertently tossed the ball aside in his excitement. Coste not only doesn't have the ball, but he suffers the humiliation of getting beat to the mound by the slow-footed Pat Burrell. In Coste's defense, Burrell was already on the top step of the dugout waiting for Myers to throw the final strike before sprinting out to him.

"For me to catch that final pitch was easily the highlight of my career," Coste said. "Unfortunately, I let it go. My goal is to get to Brett as fast as I can. I get rid of my glove, I get rid of my mask and I release the ball, which was stupid. In that brief hesitation, Burrell beats me to the mound, so I have to live with that highlight."

This spring, Coste can breathe a little easier because Ruiz is the only other catcher on the roster. But Coste doesn't take anything for granted, not after it took so long to get here. Prospect Jason Jaramillo, a second-round pick in 2004, already spent a full season at Triple-A, batting .271 with six homers and 56 RBIs. It's possible Jaramillo could end up in Philly at some point this season.

"As great as it feels right now, I know that a month into the season if I'm doing bad and Jason Jaramillo is doing well, I can easily find myself in Triple-A," Coste said.

That's why he treats every day "like the World Series." Coste appreciates his time in the majors and wants to prolong his career. He's become a fan favorite in Philadelphia, a blue-collar city that loves an underdog and has adopted heroes like the fictional Rocky Balboa.

"It's absolutely amazing how people have taken to me," Coste said. "The cool thing is we have all this star power on the team and my name isn't as big as those guys and obviously I'm not that kind of player, but people don't look at me like an idol. I'm like their cousin or best friend that made it. I'm one of them that just happened to make it."

Coste grew up in Fargo, N.D., and began his professional career in the independent Northern League where he spent four of his five seasons with Fargo-Moorhead, which originally signed him to draw interest as a hometown player.

After hitting over .312 four straight seasons, Coste eventually got a chance in the Cleveland Indians organization in 2000. He played at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo over the next three seasons, before spending 2003 in Boston's minor league system and the following year in Milwaukee's. He joined the Phillies organization in 2005.

Coste's favorite story talks about the first time he caught in a game in 1995. He describes exactly how he felt strapping on the equipment and crouching behind the plate.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Coste said. "It was on-the-job training."

Despite Coste's unorthodox style, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is comfortable using him.

"I know what he can do," Manuel said.

Now that Coste has told his inspirational story in a book, could a movie deal be next?

"I'm not actively pursuing it," Coste said. "Having said that, if Disney came to me, I would keep an open mind."