Earlier this week, Steve Costea quietly reached the 300-win milestone as Somerset High School’s baseball coach.
The Golden Eagles coach avoided the spotlight, downplayed his role in the achievement when speaking with the media and credited those who coached before him and the players who have worn the orange-and-black uniforms.
That type of level-headed approach to such a special moment doesn’t surprise those who have followed Costea’s Golden Eagles over the years.
“The consistency is the result of the stability in the coaching,” said Costea, who played for the Golden Eagles and served as an assistant coach under two of his predecessors before taking the head job in 1993. “I graduated from high school in 1981 and played for Joe Maslak. I came out of college and coached for Bob Mayer and with Randy Close. We’ve had four coaches since 1971. I learned a lot from Bob and Randy. I’ve taken that and fostered it, nurtured it and keep moving forward.
“We keep doing what we do. The philosophy hasn’t changed. That’s the key. We just go out and play fundamental, solid baseball. When people play Somerset, they know they’re going to get hard-nosed baseball.”
In 21 seasons and counting, Costea’s teams have 302 victories. The Eagles reached No. 300 in Monday’s 6-5 walk-off win over Hollidaysburg in a rematch of last spring’s District 6-AAA title game won by the Golden Tigers.
Somerset’s rally to overcome a ninth-inning deficit against a defending district champion meant as much to Costea as the milestone that resulted from the win.
But don’t think the veteran coach didn’t ponder the possibility of reaching 300.
“You have a lot of time to think about it,” he said. “I’m very goal-oriented, both team and personal. It’s always something that was in the back of my mind.
“To be in coaching 21 years here, that’s unheard of in coaching anymore. You’ve got (Portage’s) Larry McCabe, (Conemaugh Township’s) Sam Zambanini and (Johnstown’s) Dee Dee Osborne. There are very few of us left. It’s a lifestyle. You do it for the love of the game and to interact with the young men. It’s more than the wins.”
Costea can point to the large sign hanging on the backstop at Somerset’s field to reinforce that last statement.
Currently, 76 names of former Somerset players who advanced to the college ranks after learning the game in the Golden Eagles’ system are listed on the sign.
At least four more names will be added after this senior class finishes the season.
Slugger Michael Flyte will play Division I ball at Mount St. Mary’s, and standout pitcher Ian Stiffler is headed to VCU, where he also will play at the Division I level under his brother Shawn, a Somerset grad and the Rams head coach. Brent Barron recently signed to play at Pitt-Johnstown, and Drew Hemminger is off to Potomac State.
“We have a rich tradition of moving a lot of players on in baseball,” Costea said. “But there are a lot that don’t go on in baseball. Those are the ones who are the doctors and lawyers and military. They join the workforce right away. They’re very hard workers.
“That’s part of the program you learn here – hard work. You know you’re getting a quality person when they come out of the Somerset baseball program.”
Prior to Costea, the Eagles produced 27 college players and had the likes of Mayer, Andy Rush, Wade Fyock, Mike Moore and Mike Sube make their mark at the professional level as well.
Costea has watched as nearly 50 of his players upheld that tradition and advanced their careers at the next level. Jimmy Mayer and Bryan Hagerich each played Division I baseball and were drafted by pro teams.
“I have been around Steve for many years - playing for him, coaching with him, and now as an athletic director,” said Somerset AD Scott Close. “He is as consistent as any coach I have ever seen. That consistency is a large part of the success that Somerset baseball has achieved under his tenure. He is an extremely good caretaker of the baseball program here at Somerset.”
Costea is 302-108 following the lead of former Golden Eagles head coaches Joe Maslak (79-36 from 1971-83), Bob Mayer (112-38, 1984-91) and Randy Close (22-7, 1992).
The tradition and commitment to the baseball team has enabled the Golden Eagles to play on one of the best surfaces in the region.
Somerset has upgraded its athletic facilities in the past decade, with a turf football stadium, large press box and a training facility and coaches offices in one complex. The baseball field also underwent major changes, with a turf infield, new dugouts and a press box.
“We worked hard on that field from Day 1 back in the early 1980s,” Costea said. “To come in during 2008 and picking up the infield turf, it’s just a pride factor.”
Roger Frampton has maintained the field for many years. Former AD Gene Castrovilla and former business manager Richard Whipkey were instrumental in the upgrades, Costea said.
Players and coaches take their field-grooming responsibilities seriously after each game or practice.
“Our guys all have jobs to do. They do it and work and get the jobs done, and then we talk about the game. It’s their field,” Costea said. “They take pride in working on the mound and everything we do. To have a facility like that is just phenomenal. Back from when I played there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it’s changed eons. We take great pride in our facilities.”
That’s just the Somerset baseball way, and Costea fits nicely in that mold.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.