Living the dream

Leigh Ann Cost­anzo, a former soft­ball play­er at St. Hubert and Holy Fam­ily, has spent time on a dif­fer­ent field the last two years as a Phil­lies ball girl at Cit­izens Bank Park.

She does it all: In ad­di­tion to serving as a nurse at Hahne­mann Uni­versity Hos­pit­al, Leigh Ann Cost­anzo has been a Phil­lies ball girl since last year. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MICHELE DEVI­CAR­IS / PHIL­ADELPHIA PHIL­LIES

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.” ••

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