Mike Fleming has a standing obligation on the third Saturday of each September.
Dubuque Senior High School alumni come from all walks of life and span generations, united by alma mater and a love of baseball. Fleming said the oldest player graduated in the 1950s, while the youngest are just months removed from commencement.
The game is less about the competition than the camaraderie, a chance for older ballplayers to impart wisdom and reflect on their glory days. It is a day for friends and family, with a little baseball sprinkled in for good measure.
Organizing the event is a burden Fleming shoulders alone, but he is happy to do so.
Because the game’s namesake cannot be forgotten.
“No one has ever been found to have killed Scott in that hit-and-run accident,” Fleming said. “If they are still out there and they continue to read about the Scott Althoff Memorial Game, maybe, deep down just maybe, the person will come forward.
“It’s just a reminder that we’re going to remember Scott, and we’re going to keep playing ball.”
In the 15 years since Scott Michael Althoff died, struck down while walking on 300th Street west of his hometown La Motte, the criminal investigation has grown cold. No arrests have been made.
But for those who knew and loved the 23-year-old ballplayer, the memories are as vivid and powerful as they ever were.
“I still run into people who say, ‘Hey, I knew Scott,’” said his father, Ron. “’He was a great guy.’”
A decade and a half later, the details remain relatively scarce.
Authorities said Scott Althoff was struck by a vehicle — likely a pickup truck or other vehicle that sat up high — while walking along 300th Street west of La Motte, his hometown. His obituary characterized the incident as occurring “near Zwingle.” 300th Street runs through both sparsely populated communities, which are about three miles apart.
Althoff’s body was found at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, July 21, 2002, by passerby. Investigators believed he was found shortly after being hit.
The driver who struck Althoff, who was then living in Eldridge, Iowa, fled the scene and has never been identified.
The case rocked the small community and resonated throughout the tri-state area.
When Fleming heard the news, he “couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“Then, to go to that wake, it was really tough,” he said.
Althoff’s brother BJ, also a ballplayer, said Scott’s services made apparent the substantial impact he had in his short life.
“The church was full, and they had that big exterior tent that was overflowing as well,” BJ recalled. “He impacted that many people in his life.”
High school teammate Nick Foley recalled his father telling him of his friend’s death.
“It was a tough blow,” Foley said. “It was something you don’t think of. ... It was sobering and scary just to think that somebody could be so careless and take somebody’s life like that.”
Baseball wasn’t just a hobby for Scott.
“Since he was able to walk, he loved playing ball,” said Ron.
Added Carol, Scott’s mother and Ron’s wife, “It’s kind of all they did. They didn’t get into other sports.”
BJ recalled working on baseball mechanics with Ron, the baseball diamond becoming something of a second home.
“Dad would spend a lot of time with us out in the front yard here playing,” said BJ. “I think we kind of got our love of baseball through him.”
Foley recalled meeting Scott when the two were freshmen in high school. Foley said Scott walked up to him, introduced himself and initiated a friendship that would last past the pair’s 1997 graduation.
Scott was a “farm kid,” “tough” and “outgoing,” Foley said. And his love of the game was apparent to all who knew him.
“He was just a great person to be around,” Foley said. “He loved baseball. We spent a lot of time going to hitting camps and playing baseball together.”
Scott, a 1997 graduate of Dubuque Senior, starred as a junior on the Rams’ Mississippi Valley Conference championship team. He then played at Clarke College and University of Dubuque and became a perennial all-star for the Zwingle semi-pro team until his death.
Scott’s first love was pitching, though he would play shortstop or second base if needed. Ron recalled Scott’s tenure as a player for Zwingle’s semi-pro team.
“He made a comment to me one time — he was in the all-star tournament,” Ron said. “He was selected as a pitcher, but he didn’t pitch. He played second base.”
The missed opportunity to pitch to the area’s top sluggers weighed heavily on Scott, Ron said.
“’I like to compete against the best,’” he recalled Scott saying. “That’s just kind of the way he was.”
He was also a consummate prankster, who would target you “whether you’d like it or not,” Foley said. But it always was in good fun.
“He makes sure that you’re out of your comfort zone and having fun,” he said.
Scott had a finely tuned moral compass and would “give you the shirt off his back,” said BJ.
“He’d go out of the way to make people feel included,” he said. “He always kind of went out of his way to make people feel at ease.”
After the funeral, Scott’s brother Greg realized that a generation of the Althoff family would grow up without knowing Scott as a person. Nieces and nephews will never get the opportunity to interact with their uncle.
That couldn’t happen, Greg thought.
“I thought (our brother Marty’s kids) are just too young to remember him,” said Greg. “And I thought someday, I’d have some kids. ... It’d just be nice to have something to just remember, get those memories while they’re fresh.”
Greg and BJ, unbeknownst to their parents, started reaching out to friends and family members to share memories and stories of Scott. Classmates, extended family and friends all jumped at the chance.
“It was a lot of email and phone calls and stuff in the mail,” said Greg.
The end result is a set of three-ring binders packed with photos, poems, scoresheets and typed memories of a young man taken too soon.
The binders were kept secret from Ron and Carol — until Scott’s birthday.
Now, the parents have tangible proof of all the lives Scott touched.
“It makes you proud,” Carol said. “You knew what he was like. And people knew him.”
The binder project was enlightening, even for those who knew Scott best.
“Knowing and reading stories about him, it’s really not a surprise that that many people were excited to share memories,” Greg said.
In the immediate aftermath of the death, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department investigated, as did the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation.
After an autopsy, a state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Days later, Jackson County Sheriff Russ Kettmann said his department was investigating it as a hit-and-run “accident,” saying there was no indication that the death had been caused intentionally.
But years have passed without a development in the case.
Kettmann, still Jackson County’s sheriff, did not respond to repeated phone and email requests over several weeks for an interview for this story.
Mike Krapfl, special agent in charge for the Iowa DCI, wasn’t part of the initial investigation into Althoff’s death. He now oversees the zone in which the investigation is centered.
Authorities haven’t closed the book on the case, he said.
“It remains an open case,” Krapfl said.
However, no arrests have been made. If new information or tips are received, they will be explored. But Krapfl said he “can’t really speak to any leads that have come in.”
He said the DCI helps with cases when invited by local law enforcement agencies. In this case, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department asked for assistance.
“One of the advantages we have is we specialize in major crimes, (such as) death investigations,” Krapfl said.
The lack of closure stings, according to Ron.
“It hurts. It hurts every day,” he said.
“But we keep the memory alive,” added Carol. “We want Scott to be remembered like he was.”
John Kies, who was county attorney at the time of Scott Althoff’s death, could not be reached for comment for this story.
Fleming, who still teaches history at Senior, coached Scott, Foley and hundreds of other high school students.
Fleming said the tri-state area is a hotbed of baseball fanatics. But the Althoff family took it to another level.
“It’s just a baseball family,” he said. “I don’t know how you term that other than that. And people around the game understand that.”
The idea for the memorial game emerged soon after Scott’s funeral. What better way to remember a man who “couldn’t get enough baseball” than a friendly competition at the diamond, Fleming thought.
The inaugural game was held in Petrakis Field in Dubuque just a few months after Scott’s death. Fleming reported a “great turnout” that helped launch a scholarship fund for veterans of Senior’s baseball program.
Proceeds from the game have been so significant that $500 scholarships can be handed out for at least 15 more years, Fleming said.
“I think it’s Scott,” he said, explaining the game’s enduring popularity. “I think it’s Scott, in that he enjoys everybody coming together and playing ball at a ball diamond rather than remembering the accident. I think that’s why they come.”
Greg said the game is an “absolutely perfect” memorial to his late brother.
“That guy ate (and) slept baseball,” Greg said. “There’s really no more fitting tribute to him than to have people get together and play a game and just have fun. There’s really no more fitting a tribute.”
Thanks to the game, even participants who never met Scott get a taste of his personality, according to Foley.
“It’s a good, enduring way to preserve his memory for me, for his family and the people that know him,” he said.
To Fleming, one thing is certain. Had circumstances been different, Scott would be one of the first volunteers.
“If it had been anybody else, Scott Althoff would have been signed up for every one of these games every year,” Fleming said.
Ron doesn’t like to talk about Scott’s death or the investigation. He has his opinions on the matter, but reliving them is painful.
He would rather reflect on his son’s legacy, which is too vast to be defined by the nature of his death.
“(Scott) was very outgoing,” Ron said. “If he met somebody as a stranger for the first time, he could sit down and visit with him like he was an old friend.”
It is a legacy that, for as long as Scott’s family is on board, Fleming is happy to support. Those who apply for the scholarship in Scott’s name are given some context, he said.
“We try to give them some kind of an idea of who Scott is,” he said. “Or who he was, I should say.”
Meanwhile, those who knew and loved the irascible ballplayer will have to content themselves with memories, as justice remains elusive.
The lack of finality is a “hard pill to swallow,” according to Foley. Still, whoever is responsible will inevitably “meet their maker,” he said.
“Whoever did it has to wake up every morning knowing that they took somebody’s life and had a chance to come back and save it.”