Steve Costea: More than just a baseball coach
On any given day between mid-March until early June, a person could drive past the Somerset Area High School baseball field and find head coach Steve Costea there leading the Golden Eagles.
Costea has done that job for the past 27 years, taking over the program in 1993. He has since guided teams to conference and district titles. But there is a lot more to Costea than meets the eye. He wears a many different hats other than the black one with an orange “S” on it.
A talented football player at Somerset Area High School, Costea took his talents to Frostburg State to compete on the gridiron. He played the game well. But Costea learned quickly that there were people who were bigger, stronger and faster than he was.
While football was his first interest in college, Costea discovered a desire to teach. He earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and followed that with a master’s degree.
Costea has been a health and physical education teacher at Somerset Area School District for more than 30 years. Like the children he has taught over the years, education has evolved as well.
“Times have changed, definitely. Things that you could do back in the 1980s, you can’t do right now,” said Costea. “The biggest thing that evolved for me in teaching and coaching was getting involved in coaching swimming. I circled the wagons of myself. I protect a small group of people, mainly my family. Not many people know who I am. Many people have a perception of who I am but they really don’t know me that well.”
Costea opened himself up to different ideas from his inner circle and students at Somerset. “I have this small group of people that know me like I am.
“I had the opportunity four years ago to come into the swimming aspect of it and I knew two days into it that I couldn’t coach swimming the same way I coached baseball,” he said. “Swimming has changed my coaching philosophy completely. Lauren Hittie is the head swim coach and she runs a different ship than I do. I learned from her that chaos is OK every once in a while.”
Sports are more than just a game. A person can learn things from playing sports and take them into the real world. That is something Costea tries to instill in his players.
“Teaching different lessons, there is a different life lesson every day in practice,” Costea said. “I used to think baseball was the most important thing out there and it took me a long time to learn there is a lot more out there to learn. These kids we are getting through now have much more pressure on them from outside forces. There are a lot more things out there that impact their lives. You’ve got to figure out what makes them tick.”
Costea was previously the head football coach at Somerset while the varsity baseball coach. He has been dedicated and committed to the school that has given him so much over the years.
There have been only four head varsity baseball coaches in program’s storied history which began in 1971. Those coaches and teams have collected a lot of hardware over the years, including 19 Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference titles and eight district crowns.
This season the program won its 600th game. Costea has nearly 400 of those wins alone. But it is not about him when it comes to success.
“A lot of people have gone through this program but it’s not just about Steve Costea,” he said. “Yeah, I have been here for a long time but there have been hundreds and hundreds of players that have come through here and the expectation level for Somerset baseball is astronomical. Every year we are expected to go to districts and win districts. That drive of getting up every day knowing there is that expectation for such a high standard that you’ve got to go out and work and get better that day so tomorrow you can get up and do it all over again.”
The pipeline to the high school program is strong, beginning with the Little League system moving to the Senior League into the junior varsity program then the varsity and American Legion programs. The guys that have come before Costea shaped this.
“I was fortunate enough to be handed a program from Bob Mayer, from Randy Close and Joe Maslak, who started the program,” Costea said. “I learned from Bob Mayer and Randy Close. John Kamalsky and Bob Hay Jr. — they were Legion coaches. It’s more than one head coach in the 27 years pouring effort, blood, sweat and tears into this. I am the only person on the planet that played for Joe Maslak, was hired by Bob Mayer to coach the JV baseball team and work with Randy Close at the JV level, then to take over.”
It takes a lot of support to achieve so much over the years. The Somerset community rallies around its baseball like no other. All you have to do is look at the banners hanging on the outfield fence with local businesses supporting the team.
“The community backing has been phenomenal,” Costea said. “Anything we have ever needed in this program, all I’ve had to do is put the word out. Gene Castrovillo had a vision of putting turf and dugouts at this field. It is a fantastic facility and he made that come to life. It became what we have today. People want to play here. It is a team effort.”
There is a banner that hangs on the fence behind home plate at the high school field with names of former players who went on to play collegiate baseball and even some who were drafted.
“We are very proud of moving people on and taking them to that level,” Costea said. “We put their name up and we are happy to do that because it shows the hard work that goes into it.
“But there’s a completely different aspect that no one looks, and that is the group of kids that don’t move onto the next level. Taking what they’ve learned from baseball, putting in all the hard work and time, they have gone out into the workforce, who went into the military, who have become doctors, lawyers, who have become plumbers, and hard-working citizens in the community. Yeah, their names are not on that board, but they are better men because they came through the Somerset baseball program.”
Even in Costea’s free time, he is at the cage helping younger players work on their hitting. It all goes back to teaching.
“I love to teach,” Costea said. “I went to school to play sports but I love to teach. I love being in the gym with 20 kids every day. I am closer to 60 than I am to 50, and having 20, 5-year-old kids in a gym is what I like to do. I love to teach them and see their progress. This is fun for me.”
But when it all comes down to it for Costea, it starts and ends with family. His son Eric is an assistant coach and head junior varsity coach at Somerset. Costea’s daughter, Emily was a talented softball and tennis player for the Golden Eagles.
He did not push athletics on either of them, but it was all they knew growing up.
“We let them figure it out along the way,” Costea said. “When they were growing up, I was the head football and baseball coach and I put hours and hours into both of them. They grew up in a gym. My daughter had her birthday parties at the field house. They didn’t really have a choice because they were there all the time. That’s the way they were brought up. I never pushed them into anything. I let them play whatever they wanted to play. Instruments, whatever they wanted, I let them do. To have your son want to follow in your footsteps and want to become a baseball coach, it makes you pretty proud as a dad. They both could play the games and the mental part of the game is where they excelled.”
Costea is also an avid hunter. He enjoys going out in the woods and hunting with his brother, Brian.
He also has three sisters, Nikki and Janine, who live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as well as Jill who resides in Chantilly, Virginia. Though he does not get to see his sisters as much as he would like, they hold a near and dear place in his heart.
“Family is super, super important,” he said. “Last year I lost my mother, Marge and that was tough. I spent every day for five years going to The Patriot. It was not easy losing her. Family is super important. I couldn’t do this without my wife, Beth. She sacrificed a lot for me. Through football, we were able to work together with her as the athletic trainer.
“My father, Nick passed away in 2003, and he taught me more lessons and hard work. He taught me what to do and how to do it. My discipline comes from my dad. He taught me before there were life lessons. He taught me life lessons and what hard work and dedication is. I learned so much from my mom and my dad.”
Costea has passed along what he learned from his parents onto his players.
“I tell my kids every year, ‘one of the lessons my mother gave me was you have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Look twice as much, listen twice as much and talk half as much,’” Costea said. “Know what is going on around you and keep your head on a swivel.”