Same time, same place, but it's different for Astros' Coste

Oct. 1, 2009 at 5:01 a.m.

By Sam Donnellon

Philadelphia Daily News


PHILADELPHIA — The game-time temperature was 54 degrees, which was just another reason for Chris Coste to be wistful. It's October. He is in Philadelphia. The place was packed and loud, the way it always seemed to him to be.

"That's one of the things I learned that was special about here," he was saying in the Astros' clubhouse before Thursday night's 5-3 Houston win. "Unlike most cities, it's not simply about entertainment. It's your family, it's imbedded, it's in your blood, in your brain. They come to the games with feelings that have been passed down, generation to generation. A lot of cities don't have that."

He was standing in the doorway as he said this, near a lineup card that once again did not have his name on it. One foot in, one foot out — it has marked his entire baseball career. Hey, it would have made a better title for his book than "The 33-Year-Old Rookie."

Coste is three games away from another soul-searching winter, another internal debate about whether he has had enough of baseball, and whether baseball has had enough of him. He is 36, coming off his second full season as a major leaguer, but his credentials for remaining are dubious at best.

He was waived by the Phillies on July 10 with a .245 average and murmurs about his catching nuances. The Astros picked him up, even played him a bit at first, but he is finishing with them about the same as it ended with the Phillies — a late-inning pinch-hitter, a late-inning replacement.

Somewhere along the line he lost that chip on his shoulder, he said. The one he used to get to the Phillies the first time in 2006, the one he used when Pat Gillick signed Rod Barajas the following spring and he was again sent to the minors.

"You never know where you're going to be from one day to the next in this game," he said. It is the strand he clings to now, as he ponders whether any team will invite him to its camp next spring. "In 2006, I was in Triple A hitting .177. Three months later, I hit .328 in the big leagues.

"You have no idea ... I come off a world championship and then I get released from a team I loved as much as my own family."

Most of the family is still here. Spiritually and financially, Coste remains at least a half-brother, his half-share of his old team's postseason money riding on the length of its run. His Astros teammates teased him all week that they were going to tackle him if he joined the dogpile when they clinched, but when Lance Berkman made that final out Wednesday night, Coste found himself curiously uninterested.

And when the texts came in from teammates like Clay Condrey and Shane Victorino urging him to join the late-night party, Coste said no thanks.

"I still consider them to be like my brothers," Coste said. "And they would welcome me as if I was still on the team. But it wouldn't have felt right for me. It would have been like walking on eggshells, in a way."

He went back to the team hotel.

He fell asleep easily, he said. He had been a part of two previous division-clinching celebrations, ones with far more drama attached than Wednesday's game. That crazy final Sunday two years ago when the Phillies beat out the Mets. The doubleplay in last year's clincher that started with a diving stab by Jimmy Rollins.

All those big hits of his, in 2006, in '07, even up until he tired out in late August last season.

So he was asked: If he could relive just one day as a Phillie, what would it be?

"I've had some incredible personal moments," he said. "But really, running on that field when (Brad) Lidge struck out (Tampa Bay's Eric) Hinske (to win the 2008 World Series)? That's the one. Sure some guys had some big hits and some guys made some big pitches. But running on that field was that serious feeling of disbelief. There's total shock. There's no way this is happening. And you're on the mound and you're hugging and then you're on the dogpile ... "

He smiled and looked upward, as if it had just happened the day before. Coste was here when they clinched the NL East for the first time in 2007, was here when they clinched last year, too. And here he was again, in another uniform, in another dugout, amid another clinch.

As he said, you don't know what's going to happen next in baseball.

Just that you can never go back.


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