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Coste writes a new chapter to his impressive story

PHILADELPHIA -- You want the feel-good story of this World Series? I know the national media is properly making a big deal about 45-year-old Jamie Moyer. This corner, however, feels totally provincial about Chris Coste.

The Phillies' backup catcher was one of the all-time good guys to come through the Bisons' clubhouse and everyone associated with the Herd was disappointed and outraged when Coste didn't get a callup to Cleveland in 2001 or 2002, the latter season ending with a .318 average and a most valuable player award in Buffalo.

He finally broke through with the Phillies two years ago, at age 33. It spawned his breezy book dubbed "The 33-Year-Old Rookie" and the 2008 season has proven to be Coste's first full year in the big leagues.

Coste entered the clubhouse in Tropicana Field last week and got to see the World Series logo next to his name on his locker and cap. A great moment, but Coste has had a lot of them since he finally broke through in 2006 after all those years in the minors.

"For me it might be a little bit different because of the path I took to get here," Coste said. "From my first game in the big leagues to every day I'm here has kind of felt like the World Series. In an odd way, I feel like I've already been here. Every game has meant so much to me. I feel like I'm prepared."

Coste's book is an enjoyable read. He was, remember, a four-year Independent League hero in his hometown of Fargo, N.D., where he was the team's best player and even its offseason merchandising director.

He took a chance on affiliated ball with Cleveland in 2000 and started at Double-A Akron. His career started to take off when he was promoted to Buffalo on June 1 of that season. Here's what Coste wrote about his first trip to Dunn Tire Park:

"Probably no other human being has been so excited to see the Buffalo skyline as I was. We made the three-hour drive in about two hours, somehow managing to evade the notoriously vigilant Ohio State Highway Patrol along Route 90. I'd heard about what a great city Buffalo was to play in and about its beautiful 18,000-seat baseball stadium.

"But when I walked through the center-field fence, 404 feet from home plate, and looked around, I was in awe. It was way bigger than any place I'd ever played in before; standing there was like stepping into a whole different realm of baseball."

Still, you don't get rich in Triple-A. Coste's biggest contract with Cleveland was for $8,500 a month in Buffalo in 2002. After bouncing through the Boston and Milwaukee chains, he landed with the Phillies in 2005. He batted .463 in the spring of '06 and figured he was a lock to make the team when he took the charter to exhibition games in Philly on the final weekend ("Triple-A was cheeseburgers and middle seats on a commercial jet, while the big leagues were first-class seats with steak AND lobster on a chartered plane.")

But the Phillies acquired outfielder David Dellucci and stunned Coste with a return trip to Scranton. They finally called him up even though he was hitting only .177 in Triple-A.

Coste wrote some funny vignettes about his first days in the bigs. it ironic his first road trip (to New York) was on a bus rather than a plane and was stunned to spend $30 on a room-service ham-and-cheese omelette. On the next road trip, to Fenway Park, he ran barefoot on the grass for 20 minutes before the game.

The music for his first big-league at-bat was "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve with Gwen Stefani. While in Buffalo, Coste and infielder Anthony Medrano had made a deal that would be the song when one of them got to the bigs because it talked about "kicking in the door."

After an 0-for-13 start, his first big-league hit came off Tampa Bay's James Shields ("I've thought about how weird that is," Coste told me last week). His first home run was in San Diego, with former Buffalo teammate Josh Bard catching for the Padres.

Coste hit .328 in 2006 and .279 last year. His average this year was .263 but he was at .281 until a 3-for-28 September slide. Still, Coste said he appreciates the faith manager Charlie Manuel put in him despite his 0-for-4 night in Game One.

"He has such a unique way of handling things," Coste said. "If you went 0 for 4, he makes you feel like you went 4 for 4. He's like your uncle or your grandfather. You want to walk up to him and give him a hug."

Coste has been approached with movie deals for his story, which has to rate on a par with "The Rookie," the film about 36-year-old Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris. He might consider it after his career.

No idea yet on another book. He does have a new chapter planned for his current one.

"A new postscript for sure," Coste said. "Hopefully a really good one."

***

Bud bytes

Commissioner Bud Selig had impromptu briefings in St. Petersburg with a variety of interesting topics. Some samples:

Selig said he's going to work on cutting down the number of days in the postseason schedule, especially since next year's World Series isn't scheduled to end until Nov. 5. Players have complained about off days without travel in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Even though Saturday is the lowest night of the week and prime-time college football is a tough competitor, Selig said no consideration is being given to playing the one Series Saturday game in the afternoon.

"We had afternoon games in the LCS and division series and the ratings were brutal. The ratings get better and better as the night goes on. That's a fact."

Selig reiterated that he feels the Rays need to get their proposed 34,000-seat retractable ballpark on the waterfront built in order to get the kind of revenues they need to stay competitive. Some chilling numbers in the Tampa Bay papers last week: The Rays had only about 3,100 season tickets last year and were only in the 6,000 range this year. That's downright minuscule for a Series team.

He admitted concern about a rancorous divorce going on between Padres owner John Moores and his wife, Becky, who have been fighting over things like access to the owner's box at Petco Park.

"Somebody once told me, 'You think you've seen everything, but you haven't,' " Selig said. "That falls under that classification."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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