Phillies news: Q&A with Former Phillies Catcher Chris Coste
In the latest Phillies news,we sit down with folk hero Chris Coste
Last week, fans got an overview of what former Phillies catcher Chris Coste has been up to. With a lot of downtime due to no baseball, I got a chance to speak with Coste on a variety of different topics. Enjoy my 1-on-1 interview with the former 33-year-old major league rookie.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length
What led you to play at DIII Concordia College?
Chris Coste: Out of high school, I had a back issue that limited my recruiting process. I ended up going to a Junior College for one year. At the time I was a pretty good pitcher, but a much better hitter. When I came back home after my season at that one year at Junior College, I started swinging the bat playing local amateur baseball.
A lot of my friends were at Concordia College. They were a pretty good team at the time and I really loved the coach. For me it made sense [to transfer] because I could both pitch and hit and get a strong education while having fun playing baseball.
So after your stellar career at Concordia College, you went undrafted by the MLB. How tough of a grind was playing Independent Baseball for several seasons?
Chris Coste: Normally a lot of guys would say Independent ball can be a grind, but for me I was playing for my hometown [Fargo, North Dakota]. Imagine playing for your hometown minor league team that drew 4,000 people a game with a beautiful new stadium. That made me feel like a major leaguer.
I’ve listened to some of your older interviews where you mentioned you never thought about quitting during your 11-year minor league journey. But what were your emotions like when you were at your toughest times?
Chris Coste: I loved being a baseball player, whether it was Triple-A or playing winter ball in Venezuela and Mexico. I was fortunate with my Independent ball experience that when I signed I was able to leapfrog some of the lower levels. So I went to Double-A and Triple-A really quick. I think that was a huge reason why I was not going to retire.
When you are in Triple-A and doing well there can be some tough times. You see teammates and opponents getting call ups to the Majors which gives you hope. But at the same time, you feel like you’ve been bypassed. That’s just human nature. I was a Triple-A free agent every year which meant I made a little bit more money than the average minor leaguer. Nobody gets rich playing minor league baseball, but I was able to make enough to pay the bills. I had great support around me, but most importantly I absolutely loved being a baseball player and I knew I was going to get into coaching one day. The longer that I played, the better coach I might become.
You didn’t start off your career playing catcher. When did you convert to that position?
Chris Coste: My first year with the Independent League Fargo Moorehead Red Hawks, I was the starting 2nd basemen. It was the third game of the season. At the time our only catcher got signed by the Montreal Expos organization. So it was a Sunday day game and we had no catcher and I thought, “What the hell.” It sounded crazy but I rose my hand and volunteered. Honestly, I had nothing to lose. If it didn’t work out I’d go back to second base.
At the time, I had this voice in my head which was my grandfather, who was my father figure and role model growing up. When I was 14, he told me I needed to become a catcher because that was my way to make it to the major leagues. I always thought he was full of crap. So at the age of 23 I became a catcher. I still have a hard time believing all that transpired.
It sounds like your grandpa was a wise man. So let’s fast forward a little bit. How did you find out you were getting called up to the Phillies at age 33?
Chris Coste: It was the third week of May in 2006. I was in a hotel room in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was about 9 am on a Sunday morning. My phone rings and it was, John Russell, who was my Triple-A manager at the time. When you’re hitting .177 five weeks into the season and your manager calls, you don’t answer the phone because that usually means bad news. So I let it go to voicemail and paced around my hotel room for about 10 minutes and probably called my agent at one point because I just assumed I was getting released. I was nervous.
When I called John Russell back he didn’t play around. He said, “get your bags packed. You’re going to Philadelphia.” I assumed my flight back home was through Philadelphia. So I told John that I have my car here so why do I need to fly to Philadelphia?
He replied and said, “No, dummy you’re going to the big leagues.”
That is hilarious. Do you have any favorite memories that come to mind while playing with the Phillies?
Chris Coste: There are so many. I was made to play in Philadelphia. There was no other town that would have taken to me the was Philly did. When we went from being average at best to winning to the division in 2007, to winning the World Series in 2008 with a lot of marketable stars.
Individual memories would have been the first time I put my uniform on and walked into the dugout was amazing. Getting that first hit was great. But the two that stuck out the most team-wise was when we won the division on the last day of the season in 2007. I was behind the plate for that.
The biggest one was winning the world series. Running out of that dugout when Brad Lidge struck Eric Hinske, dog piling on the mound and then the parade a couple days later. There is nothing that individual success can give you that can compare.
I got the goosebumps just hearing you say that.
Chris Coste: [Laughs] Me too.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your teammates from the 2008 team?
Chris Coste: Random text messages on occasion. I do fantasy camp every year so I see Brad Lidge and Scott Eyre, who has become one of my better friends. Clay Condrey, who was kind of an unsung hero. During those 2008 days he was my best friend. I still keep in contact with him and his family a ton. Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth mostly through direct messages. With Twitter and Facebook it is amazing it’s amazing how you can keep in contact.
You’re now the head coach at your alma mater, Concordia College. With this year’s college season canceled, what are you doing these days to stay busy?
Chris Coste: I live on a lake in Minnesota so I have a lot of elbow room. Most of the people on our lake are living here seasonal. I’m with my wife and two daughters. I keep in contact with my team quite a bit. The recruiting aspect never really stops. So much recruiting is still done over the phone anyways so that is kind of the main job at the time.
And then in the summer time, I also coach with the Fargo Moorhead Red Hawks (Coste’s former Independent league team). Now, we’re just trying to salvage some of that season at some point. In a normal year, my year is baseball 365. I would love to see MLB find a way to make something work so we could watch something on TV. Imagine the TV ratings if they find a way to get back this year.
What’s your demeanor as a baseball coach? Have you gotten any ejections over the past six years?
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Chris Coste: You find out how different things are between being an assistant coach and a head coach. I love being a head coach, but being an assistant coach is one of the easiest jobs in the world (Coste was an assistant coach at Concordia before he took over).
I’m a pretty good planner. Planning out the season and the schedule. As far as umpires go, I will get on umps a little bit. I have not been ejected. There have probably been a couple of times I was close. Part of being a catcher in the major leagues, you really learn what you can and cannot say to umpires.
Interesting. You’ve written two books. Your most recent book is called, “ The 33-year-old rookie”. Where can Phillies fans buy that book?
Chris Coste: Check Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. Randomly I will walk into a Barnes & Noble’s around the country and will see my book there. Check with your local book stores also. Essentially it’s out of print but maybe that increases the value, I don’t know [laughs].
Chris, enjoyed talking with you. Please stay healthy and best of luck with your coaching career.
Chris Coste: It’s my pleasure. It’s fun getting to re-live some of these Phillies memories.