VSU's Christopher has baseball in his blood
By BY JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Apr 8, 2013, 13:02
Virginia State University sophomore Nick Christopher, a former standout at Dinwiddie High School, is averaging .407 at the plate with a team-high on-base percentage of .500 so far this season. His father, Mike Christopher, played professional baseball for 12 years (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
ETTRICK - Dinwiddie native Mike Christopher spent the better part of the early 1990s on the payroll of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, pinballing between the Major League Baseball clubs and their Triple-A outposts.
And he did so with two young children in tow.
The right-handed relief pitcher’s meandering 12-year professional career afforded his sons, Alex and Nick, the opportunity to play catch in major league outfields and rub elbows with some of the game’s most iconic figures.
The only drawback?
Nick Christopher, who now plays for Virginia State University and leads the Trojans in several offensive categories, was too young to retain the memories of his star-filled formative years.
“That’s just a great experience to have as a father,” Mike Christopher said. “But I do wish they could remember more than they do. Alex remembers a little more than Nick does, but they both have been around a lot of famous people and great baseball players.”
The frustrating irony of his early childhood is not lost on Nick Christopher, whose insatiable appetite for the game has only grown with age. “It’s a shame that I can’t remember,” he said. “Those would’ve been some great memories to have.”
It seems some of that baseball knowledge sunk into his subconscious, however, and the sophomore slugger is hoping to jog his memory by experiencing the whirlwind that is professional baseball for himself.
Former Dinwiddie High School standout Nick Christopher has emerged as a jack of all trades for the Virginia State University baseball team. The sophomore bats in the lead-off spot, starts regularly at shortstop and pitches on occasion for the Trojans (photo courtesy of VSU Athletics).
Though they share the same passion for baseball, Nick Christopher is a very different player from his father. At 6-foot-5, Mike’s wiry frame fit the pitching prototype to a tee.
At 6-1 and 160 pounds, Nick is better suited to play second base or in the outfield, though he still pitches regularly for VSU. When he’s not on the mound, the jack of all trades starts at shortstop to fill a void in the Trojans’ infield.
“Nick is probably a better all-around player than I was, especially at the college level,” Mike Christopher said. “He can play shortstop and pitcher – which is pretty tough at that level – whereas I was strictly a pitcher.”
A highly regarded prospect at Dinwiddie High School, Nick Christopher chose Division-II VSU so that he could remain close to his close-knit family. The proximity came at a price.
He selected the sleepy school on the outskirts of Petersburg knowing that he would be less visible to professional scouts, who rarely scour the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in search of talent.
“It’s definitely hard to get drafted and it’s even harder to make it to the pros,” Nick Christopher said. “I know that and everybody that plays college baseball knows that, but you never know until you try.”
The 2011 Central Region Player of the Year’s college try has been eye-raising to say the least. Through 30 games this season, he leads Chesterfield’s only college baseball team with a batting average of .407 and an on-base percentage of .500. Batting in the lead-off spot, the fleet-footed right-hander also has 14 RBIs, nine doubles, four triples and one home run.
He is 1-1 with an ERA of 3.81 in four pitching starts this season.
“He can flat out do it all,” said VSU coach Merrill Morgan, who played alongside Mike Christopher at Dinwiddie High School and against him in college. “He can hit, he can run and he can throw. He has all the tools to be a prospect.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right looks, but he has the potential and ability to play at the next level.”
Mike Christopher attended East Carolina University and was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Yankees in the summer of 1985. He started his professional career with Class-A Oneonta and worked his way up to Triple-A Columbus in five years.
He was traded to Los Angeles in 1990, and he made his major league debut in Dodger blue on September 10, 1991.
“My biggest asset was control,” Mike Christopher said. “I didn’t walk a whole lot of people, but I gave up a few more hits per innings pitched than some guys. My style was to let them put it in play and let my defense help me. Nick is fairly similar in that way.”
Mike Christopher’s first call-up coincided with a neck-and-neck playoff race between the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves, a dash to regular season’s end that concluded with Los Angeles missing out on a postseason berth by a single game.
While that was as close as he came to playing in the MLB playoffs, Mike Christopher’s minor league career was decidedly more decorated. He had a hand in seven championships with three different clubs.
In 1993, Mike Christopher was a member of the Cleveland-affiliated Charlotte Knights squad that thwarted the star-studded Richmond Braves in the championship series of the Triple-A International League. That Richmond roster featured the likes of major league mainstays Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez, among others.
Mike Christopher bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the Cleveland Indians in 1992 and 1993 and did the same for Detroit from 1994 to 1996. Of his 534 professional games played and 1,120 innings pitched, 71 and 125 came in the major leagues, respectively.
“I was fortunate to play under two Hall of Fame managers in Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers) and Sparky Anderson (Tigers),” Mike Christopher said. He also played under Buck Showalter, who currently coaches the Baltimore Orioles, and present-day Philadelphia skipper Charlie Manuel.
THE NEXT STEP
Nick Christopher and his Trojans teammates are currently seeded third in the CIAA standings, seemingly well-positioned to claim one of four berths to the conference tournament next week.
The offseason will be brief for the Central District alumnus.
He plans to suit up for the Petersburg Generals in the Coastal Plain League, a summer league chock full of Division-I players and boasting a reputation for churning out professional prospects.
The Generals open their schedule with a home game against the Peninsula Pilots on May 28, a little more than a month after VSU’s final game.
“That’s going to help him just as much as playing here, maybe even more,” Morgan said. “Because he’s going to be playing against some of the top college players from around the country. That could elevate him more than anything, so if he has a good year there I’m thinking he could have a chance.”
Christopher played the last nine games with the Generals last year, scoring twice and picking up two hits in nine at-bats.
“I’m really excited to see how I hit this summer against great competition and with a wooden bat,” Nick Christopher said. “The main thing I’m working on right now is getting bigger and stronger.”
Nick Christopher said he often thinks about making a career of his lifelong hobby, but he refuses to allow his pedigree to become a mental burden.
“I don’t expect to do what my dad did,” he said. “If that’s what you think you’re going to do, it’s probably not going to work out. I want to follow in his footsteps, but I’ve always gone out and played the game my own way.”