Work ethic, baseball savvy took late Acosta to big leagues

At first glance, "Oscar, written last year," is supposed to be a book about baseball player, coach, manager and scout Oscar Acosta.

The book was written by his loving sister, Yolanda, last year.

And, yes, it does contain glimpses of the late Oscar Acosta, born in Elida, N.M., but the bulk of the book deals with the life of the Acosta family - and it's not a pretty life, either.

The Acostas' mother was literally plucked off the street of a Mexican town by the man who wanted to marry her - and did. She was 15 years old at the time.

Yolanda, a vivacious woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer, had devils of her own - namely men. But Oscar never was far from her thoughts and seems even closer now in death.

He perished at the age of 49 while on the job, a scouting trip.

Two years later, his memory was perpetuated by the naming of the baseball diamond at Elida High School after him.

Acosta graduated EHS in 1977, then played baseball at Lubbock Christian University, where he received All-American status. His success there, made possible by a strong cowboy work ethic gleaned in New Mexico's southeast corner, took him to a short career on minor league baseball mounds. In fact, he was a teammate of Hall of Fame infielder Ryne Sandberg in his debut season of 1978 with Helena in the Pioneer League.

A torn rotator cuff ended his playing days three years later, but his wealth of knowledge led to more opportunities as a pitching coach and manager.

Living the life of an itinerant baseball player, and then coach and manager, Acosta's pitching days lasted from 1978-82, during which time he pitched for the Helena (Mont.) Phillies, Peninsula Pilots and Plataneros de Tabasco (Mexico).

After his playing days ended, he began coaching in the Rangers' organization at Butte in 1988, with stops following with the Gastonia Rangers (1989), Gulf Coast League Rangers (1990, 1993), Tulsa Drillers (1991) and Oklahoma City 89ers (1992). He then moved to the Cubs, coaching at Daytona (1994) and then back in the Gulf Coast League (1994). Joining the Yankees' organization, he was a pitching coach at triple-A Columbus (1996-98) before returning to the Cubs' organization in 1999.

He managed the Lansing Lugnuts, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, in the Midwest league before a promotion to the big-league team in 2000. After two seasons in the Windy City, Acosta was fired - he didn't get along with everybody, needless to say - and headed to Arlington, Texas, working for the Rangers.

"Oscar was a man's man - there was no gray area," Yolanda Acosta said. "He brought that toughness he was raised with in ranching to baseball. He had no tolerance for wimps at all."

In 2004, he became the manager of the New York Yankees' Gulf Coast League team in Tampa, Fla., where he won two GCL titles.

In his three seasons as a minor league manager (1999, 2004-05), Acosta led his teams to a record of 142-110.

He died in a car crash while on a scouting trip for the New York Yankees with HumbertoTrejo. Trejo also perished in the mishap.

His son, Ryan, is continuing Oscar Acosta's passion for the national pastime as a relief pitcher in the Dodgers' organization. In fact, Ryan Acosta, who played and graduated Portales High School, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 12th round of the 2007 draft.

The Dodgers signed him to a free-agent deal this past April and the right-hander received a late-season promotion from Class A Rancho Cucamonga to the Albuquerque Isotopes at the tail end of the 2011 season. He appeared in one game out of the bullpen, going three innings on Aug. 23 for the 'Topes, and then put on the disabled list.

"I have been trying to get this movie script done since Oscar died," Yolanda Acosta told the Observer in a springtime interview. "I have spent every dime."

Always close to her brother, she said she often felt his presence when she was putting the words onto paper. "As long as I was writing the book, Oscar was alive and when I got done, it was tough."

Her brother was thought of as hard-core by many of those in the game, but he managed to get the job done wherever he went. That's apparent in the book, published by O-Books.

"Oscar would never boast about himself," she said. "He was respected by Hall of Famers, (as well as) Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner." Steinbrenner, the late Yankees' owner, told Kathy Acosta, Oscar's widow, "He was a valuable employee, but a more valuable person."

Among her brother's other attributes, Yolanda Acosta said, were working with the Boys & Girls Club in Roswell, offering free baseball camps to youngsters in the southeast part of the state. Building fences, butchering cattle and competing in team roping were some of his favorite non-baseball activities.

"His hands were calloused; he had no tolerance for drugs at all; he liked to drink," she said.

As often is the case, you learn volumes more about a subject when you start to research and write about it - or him, in this case.

Yolanda Acosta said her brother's coach at Lubbock Christian, Larry Hays, was a huge help in her brother's career and helpful when it came time to write her book.

"Baseball doesn't build character, it reveals it," she said, paraphrasing an old adage. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

"As great as the game is, it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat," which is how it all came to an end for Oscar Acosta on April 19, 2006.