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Costa Plays at Only One Speed

June 15, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

The true value of Shane Costa to the Cal State Fullerton baseball team doesn't rest with the numbers.

Not that the numbers aren't worth talking about. Costa is a pure hitter with a .371 career average. He can run too, with a team-leading 28 stolen bases this season. And he can display some power, showing that Friday with a three-run homer in the Titans' 8-2 victory over Louisiana State in an opening-round game of the College World Series.

The numbers may be the clearest expression of his importance, but not the most definitive. The most convincing evidence is the bruises on his arms and legs and the array of cuts on his hands left by cleat marks.

Costa plays the game with attitude.

"He's a very serious baseball player and a very serious athlete," Fullerton Coach George Horton said. "He has invested a lot of lifetime in preparing himself for the environment he is in now for his new environment next year.

"The refreshing thing is the success he's had has not changed his work ethic or his personality."

The future looks bright for the junior right fielder. Last week he was selected in the second round of the first-year player draft by the Kansas City Royals and he figures to command a bonus in the high six figures.

But the draft seemed more like a distraction to a player whose focus is on the moment. "It was a little nerve-racking," he said. "I'm just glad it's over."

Success comes in focusing on the task at hand. If a run is needed and a runner is on third with one out, the left-handed hitting Costa will set himself to pull the ball or find a pitch he can drive to the outfield. If an outfielder isn't charging a base hit very hard, he won't hesitate and steam toward second base.

If the Titans need a runner on base to jump-start an inning, he is also likely to put himself in the way of a pitched ball. Though most of the 56 times he has been hit by a pitch in his career have come from the wildness of a pitcher, Costa admits he'll move in closer to take one for the team.

"I just try to hit the ball as hard as I can," he said. "The thing I don't want to do is strike out. With two strikes, I dive in a lot so I get hit a lot.

"I want to get on base any way I can. Sometimes when a pitch comes inside, I'll stick my leg out a little farther. For the most part, I don't look to try to get hit."

If there is one game that displayed Costa's way of playing baseball, it was last Sunday against Arizona State in the final game of the super regional.

The Big West Conference player of the year had a single and a double, stole two bases, scored twice and drove in two runs in a 7-1 win that sent the Titans to Omaha for the 12th time.

"He hit a bloop double and slid into second base very hard and knocked the second baseman over," Horton said. "He stole third and slid head first then he tagged up on a short fly ball and eluded the catcher's tag with a brilliant head-first slide.

"It's the way he's played college baseball at Fullerton the last three years."

Costa's workmanlike demeanor comes from growing up on a Visalia dairy farm and rising early to help out with daily chores. The toughness and drive, he says, come from his parents, Leo and Wendy.

"My dad and my mom always told me to work your butt off," Costa said.

Horton said his latest star defines the team's approach to the game. Costa said the injuries and other ailments are the price to pay to be successful. He is playing with a bad wrist that he has had for nearly a month.

"He canceled a doctor's appointment for that," Horton said. "At this point, he didn't want anybody telling him he couldn't play. Who knows? It could be broken. He didn't want somebody saying you need a cast for six to eight weeks."

In a program with a long list of All-Americans and former and current major league players, Costa's legacy will be that of a player willing to do whatever his team needs to win.

"It's how I've played the game as long as I remember," he said. "I love to play the game hard."

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