and his grandmother, Mary Traficano, have a tradition after every one of Lilek's games.
Traficano, who lives in Las Vegas, knows her grandson will normally arrive home from a game around 7:30 or 8 p.m. She will wait until 8 or 8:15 p.m. and then call.
"She is the only grandparent that I have," said Lilek, a senior lefthanded pitcher for
Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights, Ill.)
, and one of the nation's top prospects. "She is kind of the rock of the family who keeps us together. Every day, she asks me how everything is going, how baseball is. She is basically there for me every time I need her."
Throughout the years, Traficano has often heard how Lilek dominated hitters with an arsenal that features a low- to mid-90s fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. College coaches and Major League teams have taken notice of Lilek's talent, as he has signed with Arizona State University, a program that he liked for its rich history of winning and producing professionals.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Lilek is expected to be a high pick in the upcoming June amateur draft. While Lilek still needs some work with efficiency and throwing strikes, a Perfect Game scouting report said Lilek is "at times among the very best (and) outstanding at many PG events."
"Profile pitcher's build, tall and loose, plenty of room to add strength," the report said. "…Has a crafty lefty approach with potential power pitches, projects more velocity."
Unlike many other top prospects, Lilek and his family have thought a lot about the draft and Lilek's future. They've discussed how much development Lilek would receive by going immediately to the minors.
"If I keep going the way I go, maybe I will have that chance to play MLB baseball," he said.
Family has always been important for Lilek, the youngest of four brothers. Lilek has had one pitching coach in his career, his dad, Paul.
They started when Lilek was 6 years old and often practiced at a park near the family home. Paul taught his son basic mechanics and the necessary adjustments when pitches weren't in the strike zone.
"Basically telling me the little things that I could correct myself," Lilek said.
Phil Wail, Lilek's coach at Marian Catholic, noticed the lefthander's talent as a freshman. He came up to the varsity team for a regional game and struck out all six hitters he faced in two innings. That summer, he flew to Seattle for the Mariner Cup and competed against 18-year-olds. The competition helped Lilek believe he could compete with the elite.
"I was able to get them out and strike them out, basically when it all started for me," he said.
The next year, Lilek had the stuff to be Marian's ace, but Wail called the lefthander the team's No. 2 or 3 pitcher because of command and control issues.
"He still needs to work on a lot of things, but the potential and the build and the frame and everything is there to make an impact at the pro level," Wail said. "He still needs to learn how to pitch and realize it's not about how hard you throw, it's about where you throw the ball.
"If you hit spots, guys aren't going to hit him hard anyway and the more contact they make early in the count, that's going to allow him to stay in games a lot longer," the coach added. "His problem has been getting into a lot of full counts. Guys can hit fastballs, it doesn't matter how hard you throw it."
After his sophomore year, Lilek pitched in the Area Code Games in 2010. As a junior, he went 2-2 with a 2.75 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 40 innings for Marian.
"I had just about every top school in the country calling me last year asking me about him," Wail said.
This spring, Lilek has another daily reminder of his grandmother. Lilek used an old glove through last year and then purchased a new one this winter. When Lilek ordered the glove, he had Traficano's initials engraved on it, a special moment.
"When she called me and was talking to me, she immediately broke down in tears," he said.
With the new glove, Lilek posted a 3-3 record and 2.80 ERA after the team's 30 games. Wail said Lilek again averaged around two strikeouts per inning. The slider, a pitch that started to come around at the end of last year, has become a devastating offering, especially against lefthanders. Lilek said several hitters have fallen out of the batter's box when they see the slider.
"I will throw it at them and they will watch it break outside," he said.
Lilek missed several weeks with what Wail called arm soreness, but has improved with his efficiency. In his first start after the injury, he spread an economical 80 pitches in a complete game against St. Viator on May 12. Considering the strong competition, Wail said it was Lilek's best start of the season.
"When I first got into high school, it was just fastball after fastball after fastball," Lilek said. "I was trying to go after them and strike them out and not try to use my defense as much. Then, over the years, I would place the ball where I knew the defense would make the play." Conor Nicholl has covered sports, mainly high school and college, since 2003 in the Midwest. In addition to his work with MaxPreps, Nicholl is a sports reporter at The Hays (Kan.) Daily News and for KPreps.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.