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Published May 07 2010

Fargo native Coste could miss MLB season if Tommy John surgery is needed

Chris Coste beat long odds to reach the major leagues after 11 years of toiling in the minors.

Now, the 37-year-old Washington Nationals catcher will likely have to do the same in an effort to keep the pages turning on his Cinderella story.

Coste said Thursday that doctors told him there is a 50 percent chance he will need season-ending Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.

“The trainers are trying to prepare me mentally for Tommy John (surgery),” Coste said from the Nationals’ spring training complex in Melbourne, Fla. “Mentally, at this point I’m somewhat prepared for it. … The good thing about Tommy John is that it’s not a career death sentence. If you do the rehab right, you can come back.”

Coste injured his throwing arm on his second day with the Nationals in early April after the team claimed him off waivers from the New York Mets.

Coste said his arm felt better than it had in 15 years when the Nationals began an infield practice session.

He tossed only a few warm-up throws before firing a ball to second base.

“There was pain, there wasn’t a pop,” Coste said. “Something wasn’t right. The next day there was that unusual pain.”

The Nationals, which likely would have sent Coste to Triple-A Syracuse following spring training, placed the catcher on the 15-day disabled list on April 4. He has since been rehabilitating the elbow in Florida.

Coste said he will begin a throwing program next Saturday to determine if he needs surgery to repair elbow ligaments.

Coste said he would likely be ready for spring training next season if he undergoes surgery by June 1.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean the end,” he said.

After 11 years in the minor leagues, including a four-year stint with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Independent Northern League, Coste made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 at age 33.

He earned a World Series ring with the Phillies in 2008. Coste was plucked off waivers by Houston late in 2009, and signed as a free agent with the Mets last November.

He is a career .272 hitter 23 home runs and 108 RBIs in 299 major league games.

Coste said he would likely return to Fargo for rehabilitation following surgery.

Although he hopes to keep playing, Coste said he’s proud of his accomplishments during four-plus years in the major leagues.

“No matter what, the situation is going to turn out to be a positive,” he said. “All the disappointments in my career have all led to something far more positive than anything I ever expected. … I’ve far exceeded my expectations and everyone else’s expectations.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562