Chris Costantino made sure not leave any traces of doubt.
Thanks to a strong showing this with the Laconia (N.H.) Muskrats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, any and all speculation the St. Louis Cardinals had in the 19-year-old Lincoln native fell by the waste side. The fact-finding mission might have encompassed much of the summer, but the Cardinals realized that Costantino‚Äôs talents exceeded those of a typical 43rd round selection, which is where he emerged during this past June‚Äôs Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
As a result Costantino is now a pro, a dream that came true earlier this month while Laconia was making a push for the NECBL title. Upon signing he was assigned to play for Johnson City, the Cardinals‚Äô rookie league affiliate based in Tennessee.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pretty incredible when you‚Äôre able to achieve your dream, Costantino said when reached via phone Tuesday afternoon.
As far finally inking a pro deal ‚Äď Costantino was drafted by the Red Sox in the 49th round of the 2009 draft but elected not to sign ‚Äď he remarked, ‚ÄúThey upped my offer a lot probably because I had a good summer. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and I decided to go with it.‚ÄĚ
Originally the Cardinals came at Costantino with an offer that both the player and the player‚Äôs representatives thought was too low. After first round of negotiations bogged down, Costantino shuffled off to the NECBL, a wooden bat league where he wound up winning league MVP honors.
‚ÄúI had a lot of leverage in that I could have gone back to (Tennessee‚Äôs Walters State Community College, which is where he suited up this past spring) or to a SEC or ACC school,‚ÄĚ Costantino said. ‚ÄúI asked for a lot of money this year before the draft. If I got it, I got it. If I didn‚Äôt, I was probably heading back to school.‚ÄĚ
With his options laid out before him, Costantino went out and dominated his summertime competition. He topped the NECBL in regular-season ERA (2.30) while striking out 60 and walking 18 in 47 innings. Offensively he was just a potent, hitting .303 with five home runs and 16 RBI.
It was a summer that saw Costantino build off the numbers he compiled at Walters State. As a starting pitcher he went 7-1 with 3.08 ERA, striking out 82 batters in 55 2/3 innings. At the plate, the redshirt freshman ‚Äď he sat out the 2010 season after rupturing his spleen ‚Äď batted .328 with seven home runs, nine doubles, two triples and 38 RBI.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve always known what I can do on a baseball field and have worked very hard to do it,‚ÄĚ said Costantino, who tossed a no-hitter with nine strikeouts and two walks July 17 against Keene. ‚ÄúMaybe it was because I was hurt, but there was a point in time that some felt that I might have lost a step. That made me work all the more harder and play with the mentality that this might be my last game.‚ÄĚ
Costantino wished to remain far away from the bargaining table as possible, choosing instead to let Steve Pierce of Bregman Pierce Ports LLC, a sports agency with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and Scottsdale, Ariz., handle matters. In the end, Costantino received the type of money he was seeking as the Cardinals offered him a pact normally reserved for those taken in the 10th round.
‚ÄúThe Cardinals would call every few weeks to check in,‚ÄĚ noted Costantino. ‚ÄúI probably turned down five offers over the summer but there were constant negotiations.‚ÄĚ
So far Costantino has appeared in two games on the mound for Johnson City, which is part of the Appalachian League. His pro debut on Aug. 16 consisted of a perfect inning in relief. In last Friday‚Äôs follow-up outing, Costantino worked three scoreless frames that included two hits, a walk and four strikeouts.
‚ÄúComing down here late in the season, they [the Cards] didn‚Äôt want to throw me in the rotation on a team that‚Äôs been going all year,‚ÄĚ Costantino said. ‚ÄúThey really didn‚Äôt want to push my innings too much either because I‚Äôm still new to pitching. I‚Äôve only been pitching for three years so they didn‚Äôt want to risk my arm. That‚Äôs also why I‚Äôm just throwing here-and-there out of the ‚Äėpen.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been told that I was signed as a starter but that I‚Äôll probably just relieve the rest of this year and go to spring training looking to be a starter. I‚Äôm not sure what‚Äôs going to happen, but ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ Costantino said.
With the Cardinals electing to cancel their fall instructional program, Costantino says he plans to return to Rhode Island once Johnson City wraps up its season next Tuesday.
‚ÄúI‚Äôll probably take a month off from baseball just to relax and spend time with my family, which I haven‚Äôt been able to do much of,‚ÄĚ he said.