Even at Barrington High School, Dave Shotkoski’s fastball made heads spin.
A decade later, Shotkoski was still in uniform, still chasing his dream of playing major-league baseball. By all accounts, the 30-year-old pitcher was on the verge of realizing that dream when he was gunned down Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Shotkoski, who lived with his wife and infant daughter in North Aurora, Ill., died a short walk from the hotel where he and other Atlanta Braves players were staying during spring training.
His death shocked friends and family in the Chicago area, where Shotkoski had developed a reputation as a mentor, a pal - even a hero to the young baseball players he trained at Grand Slam USA, a training facility in Palatine, Ill.
“He’s a great friend,” Chip Bell, 14, an aspiring Pony League player from Barrington, said through his tears, recalling the man who spent five years as his trainer. “I’m going to dedicate my season to him.”
Shotkoski’s wife, Felicia, and 8-month-old daughter, Alexis, spent Saturday with other family members at his parents’ house in Hoffman Estates.
“He’s just a wonderful father,” Felicia Shotkoski said in a tearful interview. She said her husband hoped to create a financially secure future for his family in the major leagues. But she said baseball meant more to him than just money.
“It was his life,” she said. “It’s about a dream. He was almost there.”
The baseball strike created an opportunity for Shotkoski to join the Braves in January. He had been out of professional baseball since 1992, when he was released by the California Angels’ minor-league program.
Shotkoski took vacation from his job as a production supervisor at a Coca-Cola bottling plant to pursue his dream in Florida, according to his father, Clarence Shotkoski.
Dave Shotkoski had pitched one inning during a major-league exhibition game March 5 against Montreal, said Jim Schultz, the Braves’ director of public relations. In that game, Shotkoski injured his ankle and only recently recovered.
Shotkoski was among 42 players competing for the 32 spots on the Braves’ replacement-player roster, said Schultz.
Felicia Shotkoski said she had been told her husband would have made the final roster.
According to police, Shotkoski was taking a nightly walk near his hotel when he was shot about 6:40 p.m. Friday. He staggered about two blocks, leaving a trail of blood, before collapsing near a row of bushes in an empty field between two office buildings. He was dead when police arrived.
Police said that because Shotkoski’s wallet was found out of his pocket, they believe robbery was the motive for the shooting.
Police refused to discuss any suspects or leads in the shooting.
After graduating high school in 1983, Shotkoski played baseball at Clarinda Junior College in Iowa and then at Kishwaukee College near DeKalb, according to his father. It was during his stint at Kishwaukee in 1985 when a Braves scout, Stu Cann, signed him up for the minor leagues.
“When I first signed him, he would throw 90 mph,” Cann said. “That’s average major-league fastball.”
Seattle 8, San Diego 5
In Peoria, Ariz., the Mariners, who have never lost to the Padres at Peoria Stadium, won their 13th straight exhibition game against their cohabitants.
In the seventh inning, James Bonici hit a pinch-hit two-run homer for Seattle’s final two runs.
In Tempe, Ariz., former big-league infielder Lenny Randle, trying to come back as a replacement player at 46, was released by the California Angels despite a .333 average.
Randle, who played his last big-league game 13 years ago, was 8 for 24 this spring. He hit .257 in a 12 seasons with the Washington Senators, Texas Rangers, Mets, Yankees, Cubs and Seattle Mariners.