At thirty years old, and having been out of the game for three years, Dave Shotkoski was hoping for one last chance to fulfill his dream of pitching in the big leagues. That's why the husband and father to an infant daughter put his job as a production supervisor at an Illinois Coca-Cola bottling plant on hold during the winter of 1995.
Reporting to West Palm Beach, Florida, Shotkoski didn't expect to be with the Braves once the strike ended. Dave's best hope was to make an impression and land a job somewhere else in baseball-whether it be as a player with another team, or-more likely, as a coach or scout. But there he found himself, with the organization that had originally drafted him in the forth round of the 1985 January phase of the MLB draft.
Shotkoski's six-year minor league career began in Pulaski, Virginia - with the Braves' Rookie affiliate in the Appalachian League. It was a short stay, as he only pitched in one inning and picking up the win. The following season, he appeared in ten games (in which he started seven) for Idaho Falls, the Braves' short-season team in the Pioneer League. The right handed pitcher struggled that season, and was released after going 1-3 with a 7.18 ERA. Signed by the A's organization, Dave spent the next three seasons playing at four different stops: Low A, High A, AA, and finally AAA Tacoma. At each stop, the Illinois native was plagued by allowing a high number of runners on base. He was out of the game for the 1990 season, before signing in 1991 with the Angels-for whom he pitched for at AA Midland. Surprisingly, Shotkoski threw in more innings that year (130.1) than any of his previous seasons (56.2 being the previous high, in 1988). It would be his final year in organized ball until the '95 major league players' strike.
The dream that Shotkoski shared with many other "replacement players" ended abruptly one spring evening on the streets of West Palm Beach. Walking back to the team's hotel after dinner that evening, he was gunned down during a robbery attempt by a man who was looking for drug money.
Shortly after the murder, former Brave and Shotkoski's replacement teammate, Terry Blocker received a phone call from two teammates, telling him of the news. Stunned at the news of the murder of the man he had recently become acquainted with, the former Pentecostal deacon decided to do something to help bring about justice. Blocker was familiar with the city and knew some people from the time he spent there in the late-'80s while with the Braves. One friend agreed to go with him in search for any information about the murderer, and the two men roamed the streets talking about the player who had been shot-without giving away their identities or their motive. After an unsuccessful first night, Blocker and his friend were able to come up with the street name of the braggart, and soon an arrest was made.
The assailant, twenty-nine year old Neal Evans, was also wanted for parole violation. His rap sheet had enough information on it that it would have looked right at home on baseball reference's website. It was Evans' eighteenth arrest, which included crimes such as burglary, vehicle theft, drug possession, and weapons' charges. Prior to the murder, Evans had also been given conditional release from prison five times-returning each time after violating the terms of his release.
When offered a share of the $10,000 reward put up by West Palm Beach police and the Atlanta organization, Blocker refused- instead suggesting the money go to the wife of his slain teammate. As a man who was soon to be unemployed (the Braves had already decided he wouldn't make the team), he certainly could have used the money to help support his wife and two children.
Surely justice would prevail, right? Hardly. After an 11-1 hung jury, Evans' attorneys were able to plea-bargain and get their client 27 years in prison. This past Tuesday, Evans was released- a free man due to time earned for good conduct. Seventeen years (including two years served prior to his guilty plea) for the cold-blooded murder which left a woman husband-less, and an infant daughter fatherless. Unbelievable.