The man who became a Phillies folk hero of sorts as “The 33-Year Old Rookie“, and certainly a fan favorite, Chris Coste, remains involved in the game today as the head coach of his alma mater, Concordia College in Moorehead, Minnesota.
The native of Fargo, North Dakota went undrafted out of Concordia, and so began playing in Independent ball in 1995, first with the Brandon (Manitoba, Canada) Grey Owls in the Prairie League and then the Brainerd (Minnesota) Bears of the North Central League that same year.
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In 1996 at age 23, Coste began a 4-year stint with the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks of the Northern League. It was his performance and production here that brought him to the attention of scouts. He hit well over .300 each year with the Red Hawks, belting 44 homers and increasing his catching skills.
Coste first signed in MLB with the Pittsburgh Pirates following his 1998 season in Fargo at age 25. He went to Florida for the Grapefruit League, but was released by the Bucs at the end of spring training. Then following his 1999 season back in Fargo, Coste was signed by the Cleveland Indians.
From 1999-2002, Coste drifted back and forth in the Tribe farm system between AA-Akron and AAA-Buffalo, but never got a shot with the big league Indians. As a free agent, Coste then signed with the Red Sox in 2003 and the Brewers in 2004, but remained just a minor leaguer.
It was in October of 2004 that Coste first signed as a free agent with the Phillies. He was already 31-years old, and his career to that point consisted of 5 seasons of Independent baseball followed by 4 years bouncing around the minor league systems of three different major league organizations.
The Phillies saw him as the others had, experienced minor league catching depth. But Coste never gave up his dream of playing in the big leagues one day. He was impressive and durable during 2005 as the AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre starting catcher, hitting .292 with 20 homers and 89 rbi in 562 plate appearances over 134 games.
Though he began the 2006 season back in Scranton for most of the season’s first two months, he would finally achieve his lifelong dream. In late May, Coste got the call he had always dreamed of, and made his way to Citizens Bank Park, pulling on the red and white pinstripes of the Philadelphia Phillies to make his debut as the 16,491st player in Major League Baseball history.
On May 26th against the Milwaukee Brewers, Chris Coste was called on by manager Charlie Manuel to pinch-hit for reliever Tom Gordon with one out and the Phils trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th. Coste drove the first pitch from Brewers pitcher Jose Capellan to deep centerfield, but the ball was run down by Gabe Gross for the 2nd out.
Coste and the Flyin Hawaiian celebrate victory over Dodgers in 2008 NLCS
Despite that close-but-no-cigar introduction, Chris Coste was a big leaguer. He had his entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia, and no one could ever take that away. But Coste wasn’t satisfied with just a cup of coffee, he wanted to stay.
The following day, Coste got into another game against Milwaukee as part of a 5th inning pitching-defense double-switch. In the bottom of that inning, he was hit by a pitch to reach base for the first time, and subsequently scored his first major league run when Jimmy Rollins followed with a 2-run homer.
On June 10th in Washington, Coste got his first-ever big league start, going 0-3. He was still hitless in the major leagues, but that drought would end on June 16th. At Citizens Bank Park in a game against Tampa Bay, Coste drilled a 5th inning single to centerfield off James Shields, scoring Aaron Rowand and recording his first-ever big league hit.
Cost would spend the rest of that 2006 season with the Phillies, making a great first impression. He hit .328 with a .376 on-base percentage, banging 7 homers and driving in 32 runs in 213 plate appearances across 65 games.
“I have no intention of looking for a Division I job or a Minor League/Major League job. I love life the way it is right now; I’m as happy as I could possibly be.” ~ Chris Coste
This performance launched what would turn out to be a 4-year big league career for Coste. He was with the Phillies from that 2006 season into the 2009 season, appearing in the postseason in both 2007 and 2008. In the 2008 World Series, Coste started and played the entirety of Game 2. He joined in the pile-on just days later as the Phils won the 2nd championship in their history.
According to Paul Hagen of MLB.com, Coste adjusted his previous dream of becoming a big league manager when this opportunity with Cocordia arose. The demands of being away from home, from his family, were a big factor in this decision, as he explained to Hagen. The now 42-year old intends for this to be his last job in baseball.
“Once I got home and was home for a full year, I realized I didn’t want to leave. My family is there. It’s where I want to live. It’s where my life is. I have no intention of looking for a Division I job or a Minor League/Major League job. I love life the way it is right now; I’m as happy as I could possibly be. And this is what I’m going to do — here at Concordia for the next 30 years, or more.”
The story of Chris Coste persevering, working hard, fighting for his dream, and then willing that dream to reality was one that resounded with Phillies fans during his seasons with the team.
Now, Coste brings his knowledge, experience, and his character to the job of teaching young kids, many of whom share that dream of one day reaching the highest levels in the game they love.