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Passion of Krivonak ‘pitched’ to others

Stephen Krivonak passed away earlier this month at the age of 74, and the man known as “Sheeny” spent his final years the same way he spent his youth – engrossed in baseball.

Baseball was a way of life for Krivonak, who grew up on Youngstown’s west side and spent much of his youth at Mill Creek Park’s Rocky Ridge Fields. Krivonak and his buddies, Al Frasco and Joe Lutsi, turned Rock Ridge into their own version of The Sandlot.

“We met through the playground,” Frasco said. “In the summer time, we played ball, and they had all kinds of activities that we were together in.”

It was the only life Krivonak knew, and that part of his life never changed.

Krivonak was a baseball standout for Chaney High School in the early 1960s. After he graduated in 1964, he went on to play for Kent State University and had tryouts with the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates. The shortstop was a fundamentally sound contact hitter who played the game with a fiery passion, Lutsi said.

“Baseball was his game,” said Lutsi, also a ’64 graduate of Chaney. “I can remember in little league, you could tell early on that he was going to excel in baseball. ‘Sheen’ had great hand-eye coordination. He was really good at anything like golf, racket-ball, ping pong – you name it – he just had great hand-eye coordination, and he was athletic.

“Whatever he did, he was always prepared,” he added. “There was a lot of preparation and intensity. He was really involved. With golf, he would practice and practice before he went out and played. He was always ready, always intense.”

His skills hardly diminished over time.

Krivonak and his family were often involved in different games at family gatherings. It was only right, considering Stephen’s affinity for sports. His oldest son, John, held a similar love for athletics and competition.

“Probably up until a month ago, he could beat me in games that needed hand-eye coordination,” John admitted. “Golf, cornhole, we played a lot of cornhole, and everyone always wanted him on their team.

“There was actually a stretch, this is going back a couple years ago, where my dad and I would go down to Cleveland Browns games and go tailgating. We hadn’t lost a game (of cornhole) in two or three years. No one could beat us down there. Whatever he picked up, if it involved a ball, racket, or a bat or a club, it didn’t matter, he picked it up instantly.”

That had been the case since “Sheeny” was young.

It was soon after his playing days ended that Krivonak’s next passion was revealed, again through baseball. He began coaching Class B baseball at age 22, and he enjoyed immediate success. His Campbell A.C. team won three straight city league championships, and in 1971, with Frasco as his assistant coach, they won the National Athletic Baseball Federation title. It was the first Mahoning Valley team to win the national championship.

“We were very fortunate that the players we had bought in and understood and really ran with it,” said Frasco, a 1965 Chaney graduate. “To win the Class B championship, it was a big deal. It was real competitive, and the population (in Youngstown) was bigger. There were a lot more players to compete.”

Krivonak was only beginning.

He took a brief hiatus from coaching, getting married in 1974 to Elaine Musolino, who often joined him at his baseball games. He returned to coaching and won another NABF title in 1984. Both of the titles are recognized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

A teacher within the Salem School District, Krivonak knew how to teach at all levels. He blended intensity with instruction in a way that players respected and enjoyed.

“He was real fiery, competitive — he was a hustler,” Frasco said. “He had a lot of energy, and even with age, he kept that through the years. He became a manager. He was very fundamentally sound. That was what we always tried to emphasize: the fundamentals and practice.”

He wasn’t finished with baseball after stepping away from coaching.

Krivonak became a personal instructor for all levels of baseball, something he continued to do up until his recent diagnosis of cancer. He had numerous clients, from the youth level to college players who were returning for the summer.

They flocked to Krivonak, who could do more than just stand and yell.

“He didn’t have to look for business,” Lutsi said. “Kids were lined up — at all levels. … The thing about him, up until (he got sick), he was still live pitching batting practice. Most places you go for lessons, it’s all machine. This is why people loved to send their kids to him. He was live pitching, and he had some zip on the ball. You can’t beat live pitching when it comes to batting practice. It was amazing how his arm held up all those years.”

Krivonak was planning to continue his lessons this year. He was still pitching batting practice regularly.

Not many understand his passion for the game more than his sons. John was a standout at Canfield High School (1998 graduate) and continued his career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He learned most of what he knew from his father, playing numerous positions growing up that helped him continue that role in college.

“He loved baseball so much and loved coming to watch me that he would wake up at something like 3 in the morning and drive all the way to Baltimore,” John said. “He would show up, and our coach would have him pitch batting practice to a number of the guys before the game.

“It didn’t matter what time. He made sure he got there, and he’d watch two games on Saturday and drive home afterward.”

Krivonak passed life lessons — and so much more- on to his sons, John and David, his family and all those he mentored. He and Elaine also have several grandkids. All of the family is well aware of Krivonak’s love for the game — and them.

His dedication and focus for baseball turned to charisma and zest when he was with friends and family. It was a personality all types of people gravitated toward.

“He left a mark,” Frasco said, “there’s no doubt about it.”

One that lives on in baseball players all around the Mahoning Valley.

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