PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Coste’s story still resonates in Philadelphia, more than 13 years after he singled to center field for the first big league hit of his career.
Philly loves its underdogs. Haven't you heard?
MLB.com continues its Cult Hero series with a look at Coste, who spent 11 full seasons in the Minor Leagues, including his first five in Independent Leagues, before he made his MLB debut with the Phillies at 33 years old in 2006. Coste hit .463 in a storybook spring, but he didn't make the Opening Day roster when the Phillies acquired David Dellucci in a trade with Texas a couple days before the season opener. Coste was devastated. He knew he might never achieve his big league dreams after coming so close after playing so long.
“It wasn’t inevitable that I was never going to make it,” Coste said.
Not only did Coste make it, he caught the final pitch that clinched the Phillies’ 2007 National League East title, started Game 1 of the '08 World Series and took an unforgettable ride down Broad Street in the Phillies’ World Series championship parade that year. He has the ring to prove it.
“I’m thankful that I made it and did what I did in Philadelphia because the city took what should have been an anonymous, backup catcher and treated me like I was a star, even though I wasn’t a star,” Coste said.
After not making the Opening Day roster in ‘06, Coste started the season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was batting .177 when the Phillies surprised him and promoted him on May 21. Alex Gonzalez had just retired. They needed a replacement. Coste was hitless in 13 at-bats from his big league debut on May 26 until he singled in the fifth inning against Tampa Bay’s James Shields on June 16.
“I remember the excitement of the ball going up the middle,” Coste said. “And then I got to first base and my thought went from the excitement that I finally got a hit to 'I’m 1-for-14 and I better start getting a bunch more hits or they’re going to ship me out of here.'”
Coste hit .328 with seven homers, 32 RBIs and an .881 OPS in 213 plate appearances that season. He hit .279 with five homers, 22 RBIs and a .730 OPS in ’07. He caught Brett Myers’ final pitch on the final day of the season to snap the Phillies’ 13-year postseason drought. He remembers the crowd’s reaction before the game as the Marlins took an early lead against the Mets. The Phillies and Mets entered the final day of the season tied for first place.
“I remember, when the Marlins got their seventh run in the first inning, I was in the video room,” Coste said. “I ran into the dugout, waiting for them to put it on the scoreboard. There were several of us that did that. When they put up 7-0, our crowd reacted like it was the seventh game of the World Series. And our game didn’t start for another 25 minutes.”
Coste hit .263 with a .748 OPS in '08, homering in his first at-bat of the season. As he rounded the bases, the TV broadcast and Phanavision scoreboard in left field showed vendors selling his just released book, “The 33-Year-Old Rookie.”
A few months later, on Aug. 26, Coste had arguably the most memorable game of his career. The Phillies hosted the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. New York had a half-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East. Coste’s pinch-hit single in the eighth helped the Phillies score a run and cut the Mets’ lead to 7-6. He stayed in the game and the Phillies tied it in the ninth. Coste hit a leadoff double in the 10th, a two-out single in the 11th and a walk-off single in the 13th to finish 4-for-4 in an 8-7 win. It was the only walk-off hit of Coste’s career, and it moved the Phillies into first place.
Coste started Game 1 of the ’08 World Series as the Phillies’ designated hitter. He went hitless in four at-bats, but he advanced Shane Victorino to third and Pedro Feliz to second on a swinging bunt in the fourth inning. Victorino scored on a fielder’s choice to give the Phillies a three-run lead en route to a 3-2 win.
“Even though I went 0-for-4, I felt like I had four homers because we won the game,” Coste said.
These days, Coste is the head baseball coach at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. He spends his summers as the bench coach for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the independent Northern League. He loves both jobs. Back when he played for the Phils, he told people that he wanted to be a broadcaster or big league manager.
Does he still have big league coaching aspirations?
“It’s home here,” Coste said. “My oldest daughter is a junior here, so I see her pretty much every day. Doing both jobs kind of completes me.”
But he sees more former teammates and opponents managing and coaching in the big leagues and wonders. The game has changed since Coste last played, but he is keeping with the times. He will be a certified Driveline instructor in the near future.
“You never know,” Coste said. “I would be a good combination of an older-school guy, combined with the modern way of doing things. I don’t have a desire to do it, but if that door would ever open with a team I would entertain getting back into it. But I’m really happy with what I do.”
Coste is happy that he made an impact in Philly, too. He stayed at a hotel in Deptford, N.J., when he joined the Phillies in ’06. He walked through a nearby sporting goods store upon his arrival. He saw Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard jerseys. He told his wife that one day he would find his jersey there. Three years later, he walked through the store with his daughter and it happened.
“It was the coolest thing,” Coste said. “Right next to an Utley jersey was a Coste jersey.”