NILES - Were there to be a Mt. Rushmore of Mahoning Valley baseball icons, there is no question that Don Livi would be among the first to be immortalized.
A fixture for decades in both the Niles Youth League and Youngstown's Class "B" baseball league, Livi died early Tuesday morning. In death, however, Livi has left behind an indelible mark on both the game of baseball and the hundreds of young men and women whose lives were improved by crossing his path.
"Don Livi cared about every player who he came across," said Tommy Otto, current Westminster College assistant baseball coach, and former Class "B" and Youngstown Chaney head coach. "It wasn't just the superstars or the kids going to play college ball; he made sure every kid had a place to play, even if it was back in their community."
But it was the Class "B" league that Livi helped grow into the nationally known name it is today. One of the premier amateur leagues in the country, countless players have been either drafted by professional teams, or received college scholarships as a result of their success on the stage.
A 1953 graduate of Niles McKinley High School, Livi was the founder and president of Livi Steel Inc. Livi began as a manager in 1967 in the "B" league and became a sponsor in 1977 with his fittingly named Livi Steel teams. During his time as a coach and manager, Livi Steel teams became one of the steadiest winners in the always tough amateur league.
Jim Devine, owner of Diamond 9 Development Sports Complex and former Warren G. Harding head baseball coach, coached the Livi Steel team for 10 years. From that experience, Devine was able to serve as a scout from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees.
Devine said that Livi was not always the easiest boss to coach for, but he was a man who believed in giving people opportunities.
"Don was the kind of guy where, I don't have rabbit ears as a coach, but I could always hear his voice in the stands if he didn't agree with a decision," Devine joked. "But the truth is, if I never ran into Don, I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing today. I owe everything to Don Livi.
"And it's not just me who got their first shot from Don Livi," Devine added. "I can think of 10 or 12 college coaches off the top of my head who were given a break by Don, and there are hundreds of players who got to college, or were drafted into the pros, after playing for Don."
Affectionately known as "Mr. Baseball," Livi put the athletes of Trumbull County first.
Tony Gorvett is president emeritus of the "B" league, and former head coach of the Rondinelli Tuxedo-sponsored team, routinely one of the top groups in the league.
"We always competed fiercely against each other as teams and we'd get into shouting matches, but you always knew he was your friend and Don was a great supporter of mine off the field," Gorvett said.
For three years now, the National Amateur Baseball Federation has held its 18-and-under national championship tournament at Struthers' Bob Cene Park. This year's event, which ended in late July, was the organization's 100th season - and the third-straight year it held its championship round at the fields that Livi helped popularize.
"I really think it's fitting now that we host NABF World Series because Donny was a real big part of bringing that to the Valley, and making sure that it stayed here," Otto said. "It was a really special time for him, and for all of the people whose lives were touched by Donny."