Try­ing­to­get­back­to­thetop

The Colonial - - SPORTS - By Tom Lay­berger

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.

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