Following are excerpts from an interview with all-star Chris Coste that recently appeared on the website www.sethspeaks.net
Now, if you have been a long-time reader of this website, you may remember that I listed Chris Coste as the best player I have ever played on the same team with. (You have also seen his updated statistics on the left side of this screen for the last few years.) In 1993, I decided to go to college at Concordia assuming that I was pretty good and would play. I was a third baseman. So was Chris Coste. He was an All-American. I became one of the better scorebook-keepers in the league! I got a few at bats here and there, but even with my lack of play, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of being on that team. There were a lot of great people and ball players on the team. You see, in practice and in pregame warmups, I got to take groundballs at 3B with Chris. I learned so much of what I know about baseball from just talking to him then. I was a nobody, 25th man on the Division III roster, and yet he acknowledged me as if I were important somehow.
Chris is coming off one of his best all-around seasons in 2005 when he played in Scranton-Wilkes Barre, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. For the year, he batted .292/.351/.466 with 26 doubles, 20 homers and 89 RBI. He answered the below questions from his Winter Ball home in Mexico where he is playing for the second straight winter. After 136 games and 504 at bats at Triple-A, he has now played in 63 more games and had over 240 more plate appearances in Mexico. He is currently hitting .263/.333/.458 with nine doubles, a team-leading 12 homers and 44 RBI.
Enough background, huh? Let's get to the Q&A already! Well, thank you to Chris Coste for taking the time to answer all of these questions. This is yet another case where I asked far too many questions, but he was kind enough to spend the time out of his busy schedule to answer them, and answer them very thoroughly and detailed which makes it all the better for us to read. Again, I think that this is very interesting to read and I hope, and am sure, that you will enjoy it too.
Let the Questions Begin!
SethSpeaks: Growing up in Fargo, ND, what are your earliest baseball memories? Who was your favorite team and who were your favorite players growing up?
Chris Coste: My earliest memories are playing catch with my grandfather, Bob Coste, in the front yard of his home. He was a good athlete and the sole reason why I played baseball. I was always trying be like him and he made me want to be a great baseball player. I would hit rocks with a bat for hours on end and throw tennis balls against the steps of the apartment building where I lived. I did these things every day when the weather would allow and doing those things definitely helped develop my baseball skills.Early on I was a huge Reggie Jackson fan so I followed the Yankees for awhile until I realized that I was supposed to be a Twins fan.
SethSpeaks: There is no high school baseball in North Dakota, so what did you do to pass the time while waiting for the American Legion season?
Chris Coste: I tried hockey for awhile and I was actually pretty good but I always knew that baseball was my sport, so eventually I gave up hockey and focused more on baseball. I also played lots of racquetball in the winter as well.
SethSpeaks: After a year at a junior college, you came back home and played three years at Concordia in Moorhead, MN. What were some of the key factors that led to that decision, and in the long run, are you happy with that choice?
Chris Coste: I went to a junior college near Chicago my first year and had a lot of success, however, I was used exclusively as a pitcher so I eventually made the decision to leave and try to go somewhere else so I could also hit. I liked be a pitcher, but I LOVED hitting and not hitting for an entire college season was very difficult to handle! I narrowed my choices to NDSU and Concordia. I chose Concordia because at the time NDSU had no home field and I had many friends that attended Concordia. To this day I am happy with the decision, with the lone exception being the first day of the month when I have to pay my student loans.
SethSpeaks: I also remember when we played Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the Regionals and you went 2-3 with a walk and a home run against Jarrod Washburn. He became a second round pick of the Angels, and somehow, inexplicably, you went undrafted. Did anyone ever talk to you about why you weren't drafted?
Chris Coste: I talked with a scout after that regional and there was always some confusion as to if I was a pitcher or a hitter, and if I was a hitter, what position would I play. So I guess I never brought enough to the table to be drafted.
SethSpeaks: Are there any baseball websites of blogs that your frequent?
Chris Coste: I check out some of the websites of the minor league teams that I played with in the past. I also go to many major league sites as well as baseball america and minor league baseball.com.
SethSpeaks: You played a year of ball before the inaugural season of the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. I know that first year you really had to prove yourself to the coaches, that you were more than just the local guy on the roster. What was going through your mind in the early days with the Redhawks? Part of that was the change from being an infielder to becoming a catcher. What was that transition like? I think it is safe to say that you more than proved yourself and became one of the best player the Northern League has seen. You were also by far the most popular player as well. Those had to be some fun summers! What were some of your memories of the Redhawks?
Chris Coste: I knew I was a good college player but there were many Div III All Americans that failed miserably in the Northern League, so I knew it was going to be very difficult. I eventually received a call from Doug Simunic, the manager of the RedHawks, offering me a contract. However, he was very blunt and informed me that the only reason I was in consideration for the team was because I was a local guy and could possibly help with the publicity of the inaugural season. He also told me that I had almost no chance of making the team. Fortunately, it was the best thing he could have told me because every day of the off season I prepared and practiced with the intent of proving him wrong. After a few exhibition games, I impressed him enough to earn an everyday job at second base. Three days into the season I made the transition to catcher because our main catcher was signed by the Expos and I was the only player willing to give it a try. It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made because if I had never become a catcher, I never would have made it out of the Northern League. My best memory of the RedHawks was during the first season and how the Fargo-Moorhead area received the team. I lived in Fargo nearly my whole life and I never could have guessed there would a successful baseball situation like the RedHawks in Fargo. Every day I went to the stadium I could not believe how many fans came out to support us! My other memories involve the dozens and dozens of players from all over the country coming to play in Fargo...it was always the same--they were very skeptical at first but the grew to love the area as if it was their home. I heard several times by many players that Fargo was the best place they had ever played.
SethSpeaks: After other spring tryouts at affiliated minor league camps, you finally stuck with the Cleveland Indians organization. You ripped up AA and quickly advanced to AAA. A couple of questions from that. First, your success says a lot about the caliber of baseball in the Northern League. How would you rank the league in comparison to affiliated ball?
Chris Coste: The Northern League is a melting pot of baseball; there are players of all different levels of experience and ability. On any given night it could be a AA level or a low college level, which is to say that it is impossible to give it a label. But what I can say is that playing in the Northern League prepared me for success in AA and AAA because I had played against so many former and future big leaguers that there was nothing that was going to surprise me in AA or AAA...I feared nothing and I knew that I belonged in AAA.
SethSpeaks: Then, you spent three years in the Indians organization, consistently hitting over .300. How frustrated were you that Cleveland did not give you an opportunity with the big league team?
Chris Coste: I asked myself that question many times, but honestly, they never really had a need for me in the big leagues. They were never sure if I was a first baseman, third baseman or a catcher. Also, they were never sure I could hit at a big league level.
SethSpeaks: You did play under Eric Wedge, who I think is one of the better managers in baseball. What makes him so successful as a manager?
Chris Coste: Eric Wedge is a unique individual to say the least! He is young but he demands more respect than any individual I have even met. When he speaks everyone in the room pays attention because he speaks with so much passion and emotion and it is obvious he cares about what he is saying. I am not sure if he will ever be a hall of fame manager but I can tell you that he is the best manager in baseball! He would be the perfect manager for the Yankees because even a player like A-Rod would know that Wedge is the boss, and at the same time, he would love Eric Wedge like a brother. Lastly, Wedge is a warrior and every one of his players knows that he would die for them.
SethSpeaks: I write frequently that the Twins should try to acquire Kevin Youkilis. What can you tell us about him?
Chris Coste: I know Youkilis very well on and off the field and he is a special player. He may not have a lot of power, but who needs power when you are in a lineup like the Red Sox had. He has the best eye I have ever seen and he takes failure harder than any player I have played with and that is one of the things that makes him so good. I think that for him to be successful he needs to be surrounded with stars because he will have less pressure to hit for power and will only have to worry about getting on base.
SethSpeaks: But last year, you signed a minor league deal with the Phillies and spent the whole season at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Did Charlie Manuel being the Phillies new manager affect your decision to sign with them being he knew you from your Cleveland days?
Chris Coste: Charlie Manuel had nothing to do with my decision to sign with the Phillies but I was extremely happy that he was the manager. I believe he was named manager after I had signed. But he was 95% of the reason why I re-signed with the Phillies for 2006. He was a believer in me in 2002 and I was sad to see him fired that season. He still is a believer in me and if I make it to the big leagues with the Phillies it will be because he wants me there.
SethSpeaks: You moved back to 3B last year and did well defensively. That had to be a difficult re-adjustment after years as a catcher?
Chris Coste: I had played enough 3rd base in the past to feel comfortable with it but I was disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to catch more. My only chance at making the big leagues is to catch, however, the Phillies had no one else to play 3rd base every day in AAA so I filled the role. I had a lot of fun playing 3rd and it was nice to know that I was going to play every day.
SethSpeaks: Just from following stats and box scores, it seemed to me that you had a philosophical change in hitting, and correct me if I'm wrong. You have always hit for average, with a little power. Last year, you put up really solid power numbers. Was that intentional, or something that you wanted to do?
Chris Coste: Honestly, I went into the 2005 season trying to hit a homerun in every at bat. It was the first time I ever thought that but I knew it was something I had to do because I realized that maybe hitting .300 was not going to get me anywhere unless I had some power to go with it. At the same time my K's went up but my batting average stayed relatively the same. Also, the stadium in Scranton is very big so it was even more of a surprise that I hasd20 homers. I was not hitting bombs... I was just consistently hitting the ball hard, sometimes the ball would go over the wall. As a result, I lost my doubles swing... in the past I hit many doubles to right center and this past season I probably had 2 doubles to right center.
SethSpeaks: NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard was a teammate of yours much of the 2005 season. I have to think that much of his AAA success can be directly attributed to the fact that you hit behind him most of the time. Can you tell us a little more about Ryan Howard?
Chris Coste: I can tell you with 100% certainty that it did not matter who hit behind him!!! He is incredible and probably the best hitter I have played with, and the amazing thing is that he is just a great hitter that has power, which is to say that he doesn't try to hit the ball hard...but he does naturally. He will be a star for many years and he is also a great person and a good teammate.
SethSpeaks: Overall, how happy were you with your 2005 season?
Chris Coste: I am very happy with the 2005 season as far as numbers go. My power numbers were up and my average was acceptable, however, not catching pretty much guaranteed not being called up at any point during the season.
SethSpeaks: You are currently playing Winter ball in Mexico for the second straight year. What made you decide to play in Mexico? I know you played in Venezuela for a couple of winters. I hear that is quite the experience. What are your recollections of that time? What is the benefit of playing winter ball? Staying fresh? getting more ABs? making money playing ball?
Chris Coste: I am 32 years old and my primary job is playing baseball so my primary reason for playing winter baseball is to make more money. The life in Mexico is surprisingly good and the baseball here is incredibly fun, but I would love to be able to stay home for an entire offseason. My body is not what it used to be and I could use a break, but baseball pays the bills so I play. I certainly can't complain too much because I still get paid to play baseball.Venezuela is fun also but I did not spend enough time there to develop an opinion like I have on Mexico. What I do remember about Venezuela is the guards on the field and in the stands with machine guns and German Shepards. The fans are like you would see at crazy European soccer game.
SethSpeaks: What is your status for 2006?
Chris Coste: I recently re-signed with the Phillies for the 2006 season. I was hoping there would be other teams with better opportunities but not catching much in 2005 really hurt my chances of signing with other teams. I recently received a call with an offer to go to Korea and the money was incredible, but the Phillies own my contract so it is up to them if they want to allow me to go.
SethSpeaks: Do you set goals for yourself heading into each season? How long do you plan to continue playing?
Chris Coste: My only goals and hopes for each season is to stay healthy and at the age of 32 it is not as easy as it used to be. And I will play until they rip the uniform off my back.
SethSpeaks: Do you have any ambitions to stay in the game beyond your playing career, as a coach or manager?
Chris Coste: I would love to be a manager some day. I have played every position on the field professionally (even pitcher) so I have a grasp of what it is like at every angle of the field. I don't think I would like to be just a coach...I want to be in charge.
SethSpeaks: Have you pictured what making your major league debut would be like? When you do, what do you see?
Chris Coste: I think about it almost every day and at this stage it is not something I wish for... if it happens it happens. I have learned that it is not always the best players we see on TV every night in the big leagues.
SethSpeaks: In your years of ball, you have played with or been around some guys who have become stars in the game. I know you have been one of the last guys sent back to minor league camp, so I am sure that you have developed relationships with a lot of major league ball players. Who are some of the guys that you would classify as just great guys and why?
Chris Coste: One of the guys that really stands out in my mind is Todd Pratt, the backup catcher for the Phillies in 2005. He was a major league veteran and he treated everyone as if they were veterans with lots of respect. It did not matter if the player wore number 68 in spring training or number 10. He was a classy guy and a good motivator. He will become a good manager someday.Jim Thome also stands out as well. When I arrived to spring training in 2005 he was one of the first guys I saw. He was riding a stationary bike in the gym and I noticed it was him right away. I met him a few times in the spring of 2002 with the Indians but I never would have guessed he would remember Chris Coste. He saw me from across the room and yelled out :"COSTEY!!! Good to see ya man! Charlie (Manuel) has been talking for 2 weeks about how much he was looking forward to seeing you again." Needless to say, I was blown away that not only did he call me "COSTEY" but also him mentioning that Charlie Manuel was talking about me.
SethSpeaks: Do you keep in contact with any of the other pro ball players from North Dakota (Erstad, Helling, Hafner, Olson)?
Chris Coste: I got to know Erstad very well during the first few years after he was drafted. He purchased a home in Fargo and I was his pre-spring training workout partner. But after he signed his multi-year deal he moved to the Anaheim area and we have since lost touch. I met Tim Olson last season in winter baseball in Mexico. He was playing for Mazatlan and one of my teammates told me he was from North Dakota... I had no idea!I have never met Hafner and it has been a long time since I have talked to Helling.
SethSpeaks: You wrote "Hey, I'm Just the Catcher" a few years back. Do you have any plans for the sequel still?
Chris Coste: The sequel, if you can call it that, is about 99% finished; I just can't pull the trigger on the final completion. It is called RollerCoster: A Ride Through the Minor Leagues.
SethSpeaks: What is the best part about playing baseball for a living?
Chris Coste: Doing something that I love and getting paid for it. It also provides a certain amount of freedom from real life because I don't have to get a real job (yet). Also, all of the hundreds of teammates from all over the world that I have had the chance to meet and play with. The life of baseball is a priceless experience that can only be understood by the people that play it for a living; it is incredibly hard to explain... I guess you could say it is like a brotherhood.
SethSpeaks: What is the worst part about playing baseball for a living?
Chris Coste: At the higher levels of minor league baseball (AAA), the money can actually be very good. However, it is a very insecure life and any paycheck can be the last. It is a "what have you done for me RIGHT NOW" kind of life. And there a limited numbers of years that a AAA player can make money. If I could make this kind of money until I was 65 you would never hear a complaint from my mouth!!!! Also, being away from family for long periods of time is very difficult, especially for players like myself that play almost the entire year in other parts of the world.
SethSpeaks: And finally, this is primarily a Minnesota Twins blog, so I have to ask at least one Twins question. Have you ever been contacted by the Twins and what would it be like to play for them?
Chris Coste: I have never been contacted by the Twins and for that I am honestly disappointed. I would give anything to make it to the big leagues with the Twins, well just to make it to the big leagues, but the Twins are clearly my first choice!
Chris, thank you again very, very much for taking the time to answer all of these questions so thoroughly. I know that you're incredibly busy, so it means a lot that you were able to do this.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.