When Mike Costanzo was drafted by the Phillies in 2005, the seeds were planted for a dream-come-true type of baseball story.
The Springfield (Delco) native and former Archbishop Carroll star completed his junior year at Coastal Carolina University where the third baseman captured Big South Conference Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. Such a feat will get you noticed and Costanzo’s hometown team selected him in the second round at 65th overall.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2014 and Costanzo is a 30-year-old husband and the father of a 4-year-old son. It has been seven years since he last played in the Phillies’ system, and while it may not have been of the storybook variety featuring the hometown kid putting on the hometown uniform, Costanzo still experienced a taste of that big-league dream.
It was May 12, 2012, when a sore shoulder forced the Cincinnati Reds to place their third baseman on the 15-day disabled list. Costanzo was summoned from Triple-A Louisville to fill the roster spot vacated by the hurting Scott Rolen. That would be the same Scott Rolen who Costanzo and his friends rooted for at Veterans Stadium years earlier.
Costanzo’s stay in The Show was brief, three weeks and only 18 at-bats, but long enough to bang out his first and only hit as a major leaguer while driving in a couple of runs.
“It does seem like yesterday,” said Costanzo on Monday from Louisville when asked about his service as a major leaguer a little more than two years ago now. “I am going to continue to work hard to get another opportunity to get back to the big leagues.”
His attempt at reliving that dream has run into a speed bump. Costanzo was back in Louisville this season with the hope that he could again put himself in position for another promotion to the Reds, but he was hitting only .194 in 43 games before a back injury requiring as he put it, “minor surgery,” shut himdownfor the remainder of this season.
“I am looking at about three months of rehab, which I started a week ago,” he said. “I have to take it one day at time and I need to concentrate on strengthening my back and hopefully return stronger next year.”
Instead of disappearing from the team while going about his rehab, Costanzo remains very much a presence with the Bats. Though under .500 in the International League’s West Division, the team is by no means out of the playoff race and Costanzo remains on board to help in whatever way he can.
“The Reds have been great and they have let me stay around the guys,” he said. “We are only a few games out (of first place) and we are pushing to make the playoffs, so I have been helping out the young guys and being a good teammate.”
Costanzo is in his second stint with the Reds, who had initially signed him in 2010 when he was toiling for the Camden Riversharks, an independent league team not affiliated with a major league organization. Cincinnati released him following the 2012 season and he signed with the Washington Nationals for 2013. He played roughly half the season with the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse before they released him. Alas, Cincy came calling again and Costanzo spent the bulk of the remainder of last season with its DoubleAteam in Pensacola, Fla.
“They first signed me out of independent-league ball, which was unbelievable, and they gave me my first chance at the majors when I was 28 years old,” he said of the Reds.
A few years prior to joining the Reds’ organization it looked like Costanzo might have a chance with the Phillies as he made his way through the lower reaches of their system after being drafted. While playing third base full-time he was one of the Eastern League’s (Double A) most productive players in 2007 when he hit .270 with 27 home runs, 86 RBIs and 92 runs scored.
However, Costanzo and Phillies fans never got a chance to find out if he would soon call Citizens Bank Park his home stadium. That offseason he was part of a five-player deal that sent him to Houston with Brad Lidge coming to Philly. Lidge converted all 48 of his save opportunities in 2008 and nearly a year to the day following the trade he struck out Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske and the celebration of the Phillies’ first World Series title in 28 years was on in full force.
“It was quite an experience being drafted by the Phillies and I was able to spend twoand-a-half good years in their organization,” he said. “It was awesome. But baseball is a business and I was traded. They ended up winning the World Series the next year, something I was able to assist.”
Costanzo can chuckle at that memory now. As it turned out he never played in the Houston system because he was dealt to Baltimore little more than a month after the Lidge trade. After two seasons in the Orioles’ system Costanzo was released and that is how he wound up in Camden in 2010 while hoping to attract the attention of another big league organization. That was when he first connected on with the Reds.
“(The Reds) have meant so much to me and I have met so many good friends in the organization,” he said. “They have been nothing but first class.”
While the Reds have meant a lot to his career, Yankee Stadium is home to a cherished memory that took place May 19, 2012. It is one that can be relived on Costanzo’s MLB. com page.
“I really like PNC Park in Pittsburgh because of the skyline beyond the outfield, but No. 1 is Yankee Stadium because I got my first major league hit there,” he said when asked about favorite minor or major league venues he has played in. “That place has a pretty big spot in my heart.”
Costanzo is certainly appreciative for the opportunity he had to play in the majors. He also appreciates how tough it can be to get that opportunity to begin with and how difficult it may be to get back. As such, younger players should be all ears when Costanzo dishes out career advice.
“Keep your eye on your goal and do not let somebody tell you that you cannot do something,” is the message he would deliver to players hoping to crack the big time. “I had many people tell me I was not going to be a Major League Baseball player, so it is important that you not take ‘No’ for an answer and keep moving on toward your goal.”
As he recovers from back surgery, Costanzo continues to move toward his goal of reliving that dream.