Not long ago, Scott Christopher, 21, received the phone call he'd been dreaming of for 15 years. The caller - a major league baseball scout.
"He (scout Dick Bowie of the Baltimore Orioles) said he'd come up from his home in Fredericksburg in a couple of days and we'd get together on a contract," recalls Christopher, a December graduate of the University of Maryland and a Falls Church native. "Instead I asked him if it would be okay if I drove down and signed the next day." It was and Christopher did, simultaneously ending part one in his life's saga and beginning part two.
The road to the pros, never easy, was especially difficult for Christopher.
When he was six, Christopher fell while running and landed on a broken bottle, severing a major nerve and seven tendons in his right wrist - his throwing hand. Doctors doubted that he'd ever regain use of the hand.
"My parents had me used the hand in any way that I could," Christopher said. "I participated in every youth sport I could. I wasn't reluctant; I was just determined to get the use of the hand back."
Slowly, painfully, Christopher regained partial use of the hand. By the time he was a freshman at Falls Church High School, he tried out for the junior varsity baseball team. Being small (only 88 pounds) and semi-disabled, he was cut from the team.
Christopher kept exercising, working out with weights, playing youth baseball in the summer and participating in other sports as well. As a junior, "built up" to 110 pounds or so, he made the high school varsity, but struck out three of the four times he got up to bat during the season.
His hand was slowly regaining its strength and movement, but the sting of his undistinguished high school baseball career hurt deeply. "It's a strange thing," Christopher says, "but I always had a personal feeling that I could play high scholl ball and that despite all the problems some day I'd play in the big leagues."
So in the summer before his senior year at Falls Church, Christopher constructed an outdoor enclosed homemade batting cage, 50 feet long by 15 feet wide, in his back yard.
"It was a barbaric structure," he says. "It was made out of everything - tennis nets, chicken wire, pine trees - you name it." Christopher had his father and friends pitch him batting practice for "an average of three hours a day" to prepard for his senior season.
"I practiced all the time; in the rain I hit golf balls (baseballs get waterlogged)," Christopher says. "My father put up spotlighys and he'd pitch to me at night."
Once, a ball hit by Christopher flew out of the cage and broke a neighbor's window.On another occation an errant throw hit Christopher in the mouth, resulting in a trip to the hospital for stitches.
But in Christopher's senior year, he led the Falls Church varsity in hitting with a .371 average as a 5-foot-4, 120-pound shortstop. "That cage really helped me out a lot," Christopher says. He continued using it whenever possible for three years.
Despite his impressive senior year and the improving condition of his hand, Christopher received no concrete offers from colleges. "I had always wanted to play for Maryland because I wanted to play in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference)," he says. "So after my senior year in high schol, I went to (Maryland coach Elton) Jackson to see what my chances were. He didn't have much time for me then, so I figured I'd to go prep schol and try to impress him."
Christopher impressed a lot of people by hitting .380 at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania and .375 at Ferrum Junior College in Virginia. Maryland coach Jackson recalls that a scout recommended Christopher to him and urged the coach to watch him play. Jackson watched in the spring of 1973 and wound up signing Christopher to play for Maryland starting in the spring in 1974.
Then there was the car accident just before Christmas in 1973. Christopher's right arm was broken and his right wrist was dislocated. "Coach Jackson still wanted me, though," Christopher says, "I was fortunate, because he knew I wouldn't be of much use of him that year."
A special weight training program not only rehabilitated the arm within a year, but actually helped further repair the damage from Christopher's childhood injury.
Christopher was chosen team captain at Maryland his junior year, hitting safely in 21 and 23 games while batting .304 for the season. healthy and growing (he was 5-10, 160 pounds), Christopher played in the Potomac Valley League in the summer of '75. He was outstanding, despite being hit in the head twice by pitches. "One almost cracked my helmet in two," he says.
The beanings were feared more dangerous than first thought when, last spring, Christophr's thigh "went dead" just before his senior year season began. A team of neurosurgeons examined him and found no relationship between the beanings, a severe football concussion suffered while at Mercersburg, and the thigh problem, which eventually cleared up on itw own. Christopher hit .308 and led the ACC in stolen bases that season.
With his desire and ability established, most area baseball people expected Christopher to be signed long ago. But since the unusual is usual for Christopher, his "big break" happened by chance.
Last October, Maryland was preparing to play a practice game against Montgomery Junior College. Christopher, playing in the game. But when the junior college team's shortstop failed to show up, Christopher grabbed the glove and filled it.
"Scott didn't know it," Jackson recalls, "but Bowie was up in the stands scouting some other kids that day. Scottie was spectacular, playing a hundred and ten per cent like always. Pretty soon, Bowie, who has passed Scott up a couple of years ago, said to me, 'What about Christopher; does he always play like that? I said, 'Yeah.' We talked some more and he said, 'Maybe I made a mistake about him.' Next thing I know Bowie's signs him.
"It was fate," Christopher says of his unexpected chance to play that day.
Perhaps. In any event with his arm completely healed, his body filled out to 5-11, 170 pounds, and "thousands of amateur games" behind him, Christopher is confident his talent will provide a happy ending to part two in his life's saga.
"I'll be going to training camp in Miami in March," Christopher says. If I hadn't signed I was going to pack my gear and travel from camp to camp down there until I got my chance. But I can't see anything that will hinder me from doing well now."