Playing in six different seasons in the minors and for four different organizations during that time, Chris Coste never lost track of his dream of reaching the majors. Even before he had made it to affiliated ball, he had spent four seasons in independent baseball, in situations that make the tough times of the low minors look absolutely luxurious. He came into the majors as a 33 year old "kid" just looking for his chance. A hot spring almost had him on the roster to start the season, but before long, he was with the big league club and he has made the most of his opportunity. He's done it with basic talent, but mainly by simply playing all out with every chance that he was given. His 0-for-13 start at the plate didn't phase him, it just made him more determined. Now, he's seeing semi-regular playing time and coming through in tight spots for the Phillies.
So, are there other Chris Costes in the organization?
Gary Burnham will celebrate his 32nd birthday this October. Perhaps celebrate isn't the right word, since every birthday seemingly makes his chances of reaching the majors even slimmer. Burnham had spent eight seasons in the minors and couldn't find work in affiliated ball last year and played independent ball for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. This season, he was back in the minors and found his way back to Reading. Coming into the season, Burnham had a .289 average as a minor leaguer over nine seasons and had hit 105 homeruns with 40 of them coming as a member of the Reading Phillies over three different seasons.
Burnham only reached as high as AA with the Phillies, but spent two seasons at AAA with Toronto and split the 2004 season at AAA between Memphis (Cardinals) and Louisville (Reds). In his time at AAA, he hit .275 with 34 homeruns, but never got so much as a September call-up to the majors. Now, he's back at AA and tearing up the Eastern League, hitting .330 with 12 homeruns.
In his first stint with Reading, Burnham put up strong numbers that rivaled players who leap frogged over him. Instead of seeing numbers and potential, the Phillies - and other organizations - saw just a guy drafted in the 22nd round, who was just under six-feet tall and played at first base. They saw a journeyman, a mercenary, a AAAA player. Actually, the Phillies didn't even see Burnham as a AAAA player, since they never even game him a shot at AAA.
Then, there's Dusty Wathan, who turns 33 next week. Sure, Wathan had his cup of coffee with Kansas City in 2002, going 3-for-5 (.600) in three games with the Royals. In 12 minor league seasons, coming into 2006, Wathan has hit .275 for various organizations and has spent considerable time at AAA. Still, he has had just his one opportunity with Kansas City, while other players, who have put up less impressive numbers, have gone ahead of him. Where was I when the Royals were so good that they couldn't use a guy like Wathan as a back-up catcher?
Jim Rushford is currently at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but spent a chunk of the season at AA for the Phillies. Like Wathan, the 32 year old Rushford had his "chance" with Milwaukee in 2002. Granted, he hit just .143 in 23 games with the Brewers, but he's a career .309 hitter in the minors. Couldn't somebody have given him a little more of an opportunity, even if it was just as a September call-up?
It's unlikely that Burnham, Wathan or Rushford will see the majors this season. When I own my team, I'm going to look for guys like these and at least give them the courtesy of a shot. Let them play in some meaningless September games and see what happens. Heck, maybe I won't even wait until September. After all, it worked for Chris Coste.