The Phillies website details the improbable story of two players who made the 25 man roster as a regular part of the club to open the season tomorrow: Mario Hollands and Tony Gwynn Jr. For them the story of Spring Training 2014 in Clearwater was being at the right place at the right time with a blend of good performance and even better fortune. Although not nearly as good a story as Spring Training 2006 in Clearwater. On Friday, after the team had departed, I went over to the Barnes & Noble adjacent to Bright House on Rt. 19 and was browsing when Chris Coste’s book popped out at me.
Though I have the hardback edition from 2008, this was the paperback edition that came out a year later and includes a 26 page Afterword on the the World Series winning season. A couple of things popped out to me as I re-read the book. One is that ballplayers might make believe they don’t hear what’s being said from the stands. But if they’re within earshot they take in every word. A fan was chiding Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager for putting #67 in the game to take Ryan Howard’s place. That spring they used Coste to spell Howard much as Utley, Frandsen, Ruf, and Mayberry did in subsequent years. Chris writes that he didn’t mind when fans questioned who he was; he just wanted them to learn that his name was pronounced “Coast” and not “Cawstee”.
I had forgotten the connection that Charlie Manuel was the manager of the Indians when Chris Coste was going through their minor leagues from 2000-2002, and Charlie always liked his bat. Coste made his way to the Phillies triple A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he hit 20 HRs with 89 RBIs in 2005 with a batting average of .292 and an OPS of .817. So he caught Charlie Manuel’s eye well enough to garner the 2006 Spring Training invitation and alter his plans to play in Japan.
A tradition grew in Philly from days at the Vet of forming fan clubs around players, particularly pitchers. The most memorable one was The Wolf Pack for lefty Randy Wolf, with a group of about 50 fans perching themselves in nose bleed seats and donning wolf masks. Chris notes in his book that Phillies fans may just be the most knowledgable and intense baseball fans there are, and he quickly became a fan favorite with his own following, The Coste Guard.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember that Coste was part of the 2008 World Effing Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Here is #27 at the ten second mark of hte clip, piling on to what is the most famous pile to date in Citizens Bank Park.
Who was the Phillies third baseman that year? Who redeemed the ghost of Mitch Williams’ uniform from the ’93 series loss by wearing #99 for our champeens? Who was Charlie Manuel’s bench coach that year? Doesn’t matter. The important thing is that Chris Coste got to douse Shane Victorino with champagne in the delirious clubhouse on October 27, 2008.
As a reminder to those who say Spring Training doesn’t matter, none of this would have happened for Chris Coste were it not for the hot spring he had in 2006. That’s what will make it intriguing to see what becomes of Mario Hollands and Tony Gwynn Jr. this year. What became of Chris Coste after 2008? Phils left him unprotected in 2009 and he was claimed off waivers in July by the Astros. In the winter of 2009 he signed with the Mets but didn’t make the club out of spring training (told you Spring Training is important!). He was claimed off waivers by the Nationals on March 29, 2010. In his first action wearing a Nats uniform he threw his elbow out on a throw to second base, requiring Tommy John surgery. He was released by the club in June.
The closest Coste came to returning to baseball was with the Brewers – not in Milwaukee but in Moorhead. His body told him it was time to quit, first a hammy then a quad in quick succession. Chris has remained connected to the game, returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach, doing part-time commentator work for Comcast, and giving private instruction as time permits.