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Original Issue

Delayed Entrance

A real-life Crash Davis recounts his long trip to the bigs

THE 33-YEAR-OLD ROOKIE
by Chris Coste
Ballantine Books, $25

IF AN OFF-SEASON of drug reports, congressional hearings and defamation lawsuits has you a little down on baseball, a good antidote is the autobiography of Phillies catcher Chris Coste, who has a wide-eyed affection for the game that is contagious. Forget that it took the Fargo, N.D., native 11 hard years to make the big leagues; his appreciation for the diamond life seems all the richer for it.

Coste's journey is a grand tour of baseball's lower levels—with stops at independent leagues (his first pro gig, in 1995, paid $700 a month), fall instructional leagues, winter ball and the minors. Despite playing well at every level, Coste just can't catch a break. His first manager at Kishwaukee College, a junior college in Malta, Ill., tries to make him into a pitcher. Other managers shift him to the infield when the need arises, preventing Coste from developing an identity behind the plate. Then comes a shoulder injury. Before long Coste's advancing age is held against him, as teams show more interest in developing younger prospects. He looks to be on a career trajectory similar to that of Crash Davis in Bull Durham.

But Coste keeps at it. When he finally makes it to the majors, in June 2006, with the Phillies, he savors every hard-earned detail of life in the bigs. He marvels at the fresh-pressed uniform with his name on the back. He stares in disbelief at the numbers on his paychecks. When he arrives at Fenway Park, he runs barefoot through the grass. "Anyone watching me probably thought I was an idiot, but I felt like the luckiest fan in the world," he says. It is this pre--Ball Four innocence that makes this slim, simply written volume a refreshing and enjoyable read.

Oh, and when Coste arrives in the majors, he plays pretty well—eventually. After a confidence-shaking 0-for-13 start in Philadelphia, Coste finishes the '06 season hitting .328 and then bats .279 in 2007. He was on the Phillies' roster as a backup when the season opened on March 31; thanks to The 33-Year-Old Rookie, it's already been a good year.

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