It would have been easy for Demetri Shakotko to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Darren Shakotko had a successful sports career that included a Western Hockey League (WHL) championship with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 1996-1997. His puck pursuits continued at the University of New Brunswick, followed by a few seasons in the East Coast Hockey League and Central Hockey League.
While Demetri did excel on the ice growing up in Fredericton, his real passion was on the baseball field.
So when it came time to make a decision about what to pursue, the young man didn’t hesitate and faced no pressure from his father.
“My dad was really good about it, and left that whole decision up to me,” Shakotko told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I just found that hockey was fun and all, but I was slightly better at baseball and felt I could take it a little further than hockey.”
That decision has already led to a return to where his father made a name for himself in junior hockey, and to a phenomenal first season with Cloud County Community College, where he was named an All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference First Team member and All-Region VI Second Team selection.
JETTING TO VAUXHALL
Shakotko recalls making the decision to chase the baseball dream in Grade 10.
A great all-around athlete in Fredericton, he went to Baseball Canada’s Ray Carter Cup in Ontario and was able to put on a show, to the point where he was told by several people that he was good enough to play at the next level.
Having known fellow New Brunswick natives Max Grant and Drew Lenehan for a while, all he heard about was the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball and the quality of the talent that was coming through.
“Everything I heard about Vauxhall was just like … I want to go there,” said Shakotko. “There was no other place in mind that I wanted to go but Vauxhall and I got lucky enough to get hooked up in Grade 12 for my senior year.”
On a winning team, he says they were also able to have fun and he ended up getting scouted for college, which is exactly what he was looking for.
“It completely exceeded my expectations,” Shakotko continued. “It feels like family, as everyone is there to support and help you in any way they need – academically, mentally, physically, everything.”
His one year at Vauxhall catapulted him into the opportunity to play for Cloud County Community College, starting in the spring of 2023.
MIX OF SUN AND CLOUD
Shakotko admits he didn’t get off to the best start when he arrived at Cloud.
He didn’t collect his first hit and run batted in until his fifth game, and his first home run until the 11th.
“I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat for the first month,” the 6-foot-0, 165-pound Shakotko laughed. “But I really just had to trust the process, think it through, get my opportunities and take them, then go from there.”
Leaning on the advice of others, including text message conversations with fellow Fredericton native Matt Stairs, things really started to take off during the weekend of March 10-11, where he picked up five hits in nine at-bats, then went 11 for his next 16.
Shakotko then had another strong performance a month later, culminating in being named the Canadian Baseball Network’s College Baseball Player of the Week for April 10-16 after he had 10 hits, including three homers and 11 RBI.
In the outfielder’s mind, there were no big changes made, as he felt like he was trying to force contact in the early going and wasn’t simplifying his approach enough.
“Really, it was just about toning it back and being on time for the baseball, adjust to the off-speed and be ready to hit,” Shakotko said. “Be a hitter, don’t let mistakes go by you, be patient, let them come to you, little things like that.”
He finished the season hitting .413 with seven home runs and 39 RBI, leading to the many end-of-year accolades.
Unfortunately, Shakotko wasn’t able to finish the year the way he would have liked.
In the second game of a series against Dodge City during the final weekend of the regular season, he drew a walk in his second at-bat.
Attempting to slide into second with a stolen base, Shakotko’s right hand caught on the defending infielder’s foot, breaking his pinky finger.
While he still played the rest of the weekend, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to be able to suit up in the playoffs.
“The adrenaline definitely helped,” Shakotko laughed. “But I knew it right away, I just didn’t want to believe it.”
He was wheeled in for an X-ray the next day, where he received the bad news.
Shakotko had the option to get his finger surgically repaired, but he decided against it, choosing to rehabilitate it at home during the late spring and into the summer.
RUNNING WITH THE BULLS
It will be a full-circle moment for Shakotko when he’s able to finish his recovery and step onto the field at Spitz Stadium for the Lethbridge Bulls this summer.
It’s the same community where his father made a name for himself, and he would love nothing more than to replicate his championship success.
He knows it will also be a bit emotional, as his last ever game with Vauxhall came at Spitz Stadium, where he remembers shedding tears, saying goodbye and realizing he wasn’t going to be putting on a Jets uniform again.
But Shakotko is ready to make some new memories, and to grow as a baseball player so that he can make an even bigger impact in his second season with Cloud.
“I’m fired up – I couldn’t have asked for a better season for my freshman year,” he said. “Definitely the biggest thing I have to do is put on some size, maybe put on a little more speed, and basically just build on what I did last year.”
Like any other baseball player, Shakotko would love to once again take his game to the next level with an NCAA Division 1 school before turning his attention to the professional ranks.
“Baseball means everything to me,” he said. “I eat, sleep and breathe baseball – there’s no other sport that I could have chose.”
If all goes according to plan, Shakotko is hoping to make his Bulls debut in the next couple of weeks.