Leigh Ann Costanzo never will forget where she was the moment she found out she was going to be a Phillies ball girl, and she’s not sorry for the outburst the news caused.
“I was in the library at Holy Family, studying for finals my senior year,” she said. “I got an email from the Phillies, and I just started screaming right in the middle of the library. Everyone was looking at me, but I didn’t care. It kind of started out as a, ‘Oh, let me try this out,’ but I never thought the dream would actually come true.”
Costanzo, a Winchester Park native and graduate of St. Hubert and Holy Family, is a lifelong Phillies fan. Her family has season tickets, and she remembers attending the games growing up with her dad, seeing the ball girls and wondering how and why they “got to play for the Phillies.”
As she later discovered, the ball girls weren’t actually Phillies players, but they were about as close as can be, getting to wear a helmet and mitt and catch anything that comes their way down the first or third-base lines, where ball girls are stationed throughout each home game.
Costanzo played softball for both the Bambies (Class of 2008) and Holy Family (Class of 2012), so she fit the bill in terms of what the Phillies look for when appointing ball girls, usually a rotating crew of 18 that serve for two seasons before a new crop is chosen. However, she always was busy with her responsibilities to the Holy Family softball team as well as the school’s grueling nursing program (Costanzo has worked as a registered nurse on the Ortho/Neuro/Trauma floor at Hahnemann Hospital for the last year), so she never expected to find the time to try out.
But when she decided to forgo her senior softball season at Holy Family in 2012 to focus more on her studies, she figured it was now or never.
“Tryouts begin in October, after the season, and the first step is you send in a video highlighting your personality and softball skills,” she said. “I sent that in never expecting to hear back, but then I got an email inviting me down to Citizens Bank Park for a tryout.”
Then began a complicated narrowing-down process that sounds more fitting for a CIA agent than a Phillies ball girl. First, the girls went through a tryout process testing their skills in running, hitting, fielding and throwing. Then, they did on-camera interviews with Phillies broadcasters from Comcast SportsNet to show how quickly they could think on their feet, followed by a written test of Phillies knowledge. After the pool was further narrowed down, Costanzo was invited back for a formal interview with the ball girl manager and other team employees; seven new ball girls were chosen as well as three new alternates. Costanzo was an alternate, and of the three, one was selected as the eighth and final ball girl in an online vote.
Guess who won?
“It was an opportunity to market myself, and, thankfully, I have a lot of supporters,” she said. “Luckily, I got that last spot.”
Walking out onto the field at Citizens Bank Park for her first game in 2012 was “overwhelming,” Costanzo said. She went from watching the games on TV or in the stands with family to literally being on it as a major part of the action. The casual fan may not pay much attention to the ball girls, but their importance on the field during a game is crucial, mainly because they can slow down or speed up the pacing of a game, depending on their reaction time to foul balls that come their way.
“Sure, it can be overwhelming at first, but that’s one of the coolest parts, being on the field, because you really are a part of the team every night,” she said. “And there’s nothing like that vantage point, especially when something good happens and the entire stadium reacts and stands up. It’s just amazing.”
And while being on the field of play is pretty special, it’s not the only — or best — responsibility of Costanzo’s job. That part comes when she’s able to hand a foul ball off to young Phillies fans and seeing their little faces light up when receiving their first ever souvenir baseball.
“For a lot of them, it’s hands-down the best moment in their life to that point,” she said. “To be able to make that happen for them is incredible.”
The ball girls also are immersed in the Phillies charity work, be it the team’s “Red Goes Green Program,” designed to make the ballpark more environmentally friendly, or visiting kids at local hospitals or the elderly at nursing homes. As a healthcare worker who sees a wide array of patients, the latter part especially appeals to Costanzo.
“As a nurse, you can really connect to people on a level of well being, and I think there’s a lot of overlap in the ball girl position, especially as it pertains to finding that connection,” she said. “In the case of the Phillies, it’s that connection people feel to their favorite baseball team. Both jobs are awesome because you can really make a difference in someone’s day.”
The only unfortunate part of Costanzo’s tenure as a ball girl, which will end following this season, is that her favorite ball club has struggled the last two seasons, failing to qualify for the playoffs. Still, that hasn’t been enough to diminish the experience for the former St. Hubert and Holy Family outfielder, who has gotten more out of being a ball girl than she ever could have anticipated.
She’ll surely miss it when it’s over, but she’s got bragging rights for the rest of her life, being able to share stories about how she shared a field with professional baseball players for two seasons.
“These girls and I have become best friends, sisters really, and I’ll miss them as well as everyone I’ve met associated with the team,” she said. “They’ve had a few tough seasons, but it’s been an amazing organization to work for. Even if they aren’t doing well on the field, the players and the team do great things for charity and the people in their community.
“I didn’t know what to expect the first time I walked out on that field, but it’s been more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. Being able to make someone’s day just by saying hello or giving them a baseball with them thinking you’re a player on the Phillies … that’s the part I’ll miss the most.” ••