Had you known Rob Johnson was going to make the big leagues, you probably would have made it a point to attend more Butte Miners games at Alumni Coliseum when you had the chance.
In hindsight, you might have sat through every home game of the winless 2003 Butte High football season knowing Colt Anderson would end up playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
With that in mind, making yourself familiar with Field No. 4 at Copper Mountain Park might be a pretty good bet this summer.
Meet Tanner Costello. He’s not even 16 yet, and pro baseball is already on his mind. By all accounts it is also something that is not out of the realm of possibility.
Jeff LeProwse, the head coach of the American Legion Butte Miners, has coached Costello since the young star was 10 years old.
“When he was 12 years old he was as good as any player I’ve seen in the Little League World Series,” LeProwse says. “He was that good.”
Now still a month away from his 16th birthday, Costello, who routinely bats No. 3 in the Miners lineup, is turning heads at the American Legion level.
“His pure strength is hitting,” LeProwse says. “He’s a 15-year-old kid and right now he’s batting just a touch under .400, and that’s against some pretty good teams.”
LeProwse points to a May 11 game in Dillon when the Cubs intentionally walked Costello to load the bases. Colten Billteen made Dillon pay for giving Costello the Barry Bonds treatment by following with a three-run double.
“He’s a 15-year-old kid and they intentionally walked him,” LeProwse says. “That’s the kind of respect they’re giving him.”
At just a shade under 6-feet-3 and 180 pounds, Costello is coach’s dream in so many sports. Right now, though, he’s only got baseball on his mind.
“It’s always been my favorite sport,” Costello says of the only sport he plays. “I’d rather do baseball than football any day.”
Costello, the son of Chris and Cindy Costello, made a name for himself on the diamond at a young age. During his 12-year-old season he hit 33 home runs, including All-Stars. One of his home runs has become a legend in Great Falls.
“There were some houses across the road, and he sipped it off the house,” LeProwse says of that shot. “I would venture to say he was hitting the ball 350 feet when he was 12 years old.”
LeProwse says Costello was practically too good for the All-Stars.
” I wouldn’t let any of my kids pitch to him because I was scared to death he was going to hurt somebody,” the coach says. “It was scary how hard he was hitting the ball at that age.”
LeProwse notes that Costello was by no means a giant for his age. He was just so good that he intimidated.
“He stepped up on that mound and kids knew what was coming,” LeProwse says. “He was big enough for that.”
The next year, Costello blasted home runs on a much bigger field.
“At 13 years old he was hitting home runs out of this park,” LeProwse says, looking at Field No. 4 at Copper Mountain. “I bet to that deep part of center is 400. It’s 335 down the lines. It’s a regulation field. At 13 years old he’s hitting home runs out of here.”
Like every player on the Miners through 18 games, Costello is still looking for his first home run this season. LeProwse says that’s because the team is getting used to the new BBCOR aluminum bats, which the team is using under new safer bat standards.
“BBCOR bats are equivalent to a wood,” LeProwse says. “You might as well use a wood bad. There’s no difference.”
Costello is still hitting, though.
“He’s hit a couple this year that were just line shots that you think if that was in the air it would be gone,” LeProwse says. “He hits it so hard.”
With a .388 batting average, Costello is No. 2 on the Miners in that category. Billteen leads the team with a .391 average. Jimmy Martz is third at .357, while Cody Sletten and Nate LeProwse are both hitting .356.
“A week ago I was at .429, and I had a rough couple of games,” Costello says. “It takes time to get used to the bats. There’s so much different.”
On the mound, Costello is throwing about 83 miles per hour and he is carrying an ERA of 6.50 through 16 innings. He’s struck out 14 batters, but walked 25.
“He’s got some mechanic work to do on pitching,” LeProwse says. “He’s short arming it. That just came the last couple of years. We’re trying to break him out of that right now.”
In center field, there’s no issues at all. Costello has the range, glove and arm strength to handle the demanding position.
“I like pitching, too,” Costello says. “But center field … I think that’s where it’s at.”
When it’s not baseball season, Costello still works on his game.
“I lift, work on techniques and work on throwing,” he says. “My dad will help me with the pitching machine. Then I go through and watch video and see what I’m doing wrong and work on it.”
Costello attended Butte Central and played frosh football for the Maroons. He transferred to Butte High during the school year. He’ll be a junior — a young junior — at Butte High next school year.
So far has had fought of the calls for him to play football.
“I just tell them the reason why,” Costello says. “I just want to concentrate on baseball.”
“He’s all about baseball,” LeProwse adds.
Costello says he plans to go to college and play the sport. He also wants to go to a school that will keep him close to his other love.
“I want to be a game warden,” he says. “I want to do something in wild life. It doesn’t matter what, just something in wildlife.”
Since he was little, Costello was a big-time hunter.
“I used to go with my dad all the time,” he says. “Even when I couldn’t hunt I would go just to go for a walk with him. When I turned 12 I was all over the place with him.”
It turns out that Costello is a bit of a phenom as hunter as well.
“My first year I shot a 320 bull,” Costello says.
Of course, any career in the wildlife hopefully follow a long career partaking in the national pastime.
“It’s been my goal since I was little kid,” Costello says of getting drafted and playing professional baseball.
LeProwse insists that goal is an obtainable one.
“I always tell him the sky’s the limit,” LeProwse says. “He’s got that much potential.”