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One for the (record) books

Scott Christopher, left, a former teammate of Cal Ripken Jr., shows off his soon-to-be released book, “Baseball, Blood and Art,” with the Hall-of-Famer. (Courtesy of Scott Christopher )

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

It seemed like yesterday that Cal Ripken Jr. slowly circled the stadium at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, slapping and shaking hands with anybody within reach arm’s reach.

But in reality, today marks the 25th anniversary of Ripken’s passing Lou Gehrig for the most consecutive games played, at 2,131.

Santa Fe artist Scott Christopher was there on the day one of baseball’s most cherished landmarks fell. He was, however, not just another spectator.

A minor league teammate of Ripken’s, he was there to capture the moment on film.

That he was even there at all is something of a minor miracle as Christopher’s baseball career got off to less than a stellar start.

He fell off the bleachers at his hometown Little League field, landing on a soda bottle.

“I almost cut my right, throwing hand, off,” Christopher recalls. “So when I hit, I only had nine fingers on the bat. My thumb couldn’t go around the bat because it doesn’t bend. It cut me all the way across the wrist. So my story is already about the inspirational part.”

As a high school junior, Christopher said he may have been the worst player in the country, with a batting average of .000

“But I built a batter’s cage in my backyard, and I hit and hit and hit,” he said. “The next year, I led the team in hitting and was the most valuable player.”

It also landed him a spot with the University of Maryland, where he played for four seasons.

But, unlike Ripken, who was drafted in the second round, Christopher was not drafted.

Instead, he was an assistant coach at Maryland when asked to fill in at shortstop during a fall ball game. Unbeknownst to him, a Baltimore scout was in the stands.

“One particular play I made, it was … a big league play,” Christopher said. “I backhanded the ball and it took a very strong throw to get the guy at first.”

That play caught the scout’s eye and he soon had a contract.

And that brought Christopher to the same locker room as Ripken as they played together in instructional ball, as well as on two different minor league teams.

“You could see from Cal, his talent, it was so raw,” Christopher said. “And he was so committed. That is something that is in his personality. Cal Ripken was and still is like that. He demands so much of himself, gives 110%. As a teammate, there were so many wonderful aspects of Cal. The team came first. He would always give himself up at bat to move a runner up. Whatever he had to do.”

Christopher’s career stalled in 1980. Ripken, meanwhile, went on to a Hall of Fame career, earning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1982 and an MVP in 1983 while leading the Orioles to a World Series championship.

“He’s what baseball is all about,” Christopher said. “He’s a total gift to the great game. I would much rather be Cal’s teammate, and to be a part of his experience and our teams, than to have had my cup of coffee in the bigs.”

Christopher moved to Santa Fe as a widower with three young daughters in 1991 in search of more space and a more creative environment than the East Coast. “This is just a beautiful piece of America,” he said of Santa Fe.

To commemorate his time in baseball and merge with his artistic side, Christopher wrote a book that will be out soon, “Baseball, Blood and Art.”

“It’s an inspirational book I have penned for a number of reasons,” he said. “To inspire others to have a dream, or more than one dream, in any walk of life, any profession. All races genders, sexes; it’s for everybody. It’s for everyday people to see if you have a dream, and you’re passionate about that dream, there will be moments in your pursuit of that dream where the door opens. That play I made at shortstop, that was the door opening for me.”

And it led him into a world where he could be a little part of history.