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My Hometown . . . : Though Philosophies Away From Boardman, When Davey Comes Marching Home There’s Celebration in the Dravecky Household

Times Staff Writer

Today in Boardman, Ohio, the boredom will end when the phone rings. Frank Dravecky, father of five boys (one’s a major leaguer), will answer.

As always, the conversation will go something like this:

“Hello, Dravecky residence.”

“Hey, Frank. Dave’s pitching great today. I’m watching on my satellite. It’s the fifth inning and he hasn’t given up a run. I’ll be back in touch.”

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“Well, thanks for calling. Bye.”

Unfortunately, Frank can’t see for himself. Dave Dravecky (the major leaguer) pitches for the San Diego Padres, about 2,000 miles away. All the other Draveckys have stayed in Boardman and work for the Dravecky family business there. They all break their backs for a living.

But Dave, the oldest brother, breaks bats for a living.

The family rarely sees him.

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So friends and neighbors--from all over the country--call Frank Dravecky every time his son pitches, and he happens to be throwing again today against the Dodgers.

Donna Dravecky, Frank’s wife and Dave’s mom, says she wishes her son would pitch in Cleveland.

“I wish he’d be traded there,” she said. “Of course, he wouldn’t want that.”

But when he comes home in the off-season--or even when he drives home from Pittsburgh when he’s there during the season--it’s The Big Thrill. His brothers Ricky (29), Frankie (27), Joey (26) and Georgey (10) are waiting with open arms and wet eyes, along with dad and mom and about five of Georgey’s elementary school friends who sneak by for an autograph or two or three.

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Georgey tells them to cool it, though.

He says: “He’s just Dave Dravecky, my brother.”

But his buddies say: “What do you mean? He’s a major leaguer.”

But being a major leaguer can be a major hassle. It changes your life, you know.

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What if Dave Dravecky had never pitched? He’d be pitching in at the old family business--the “Automatic Screw Machine Shop.” He’d be going to church on Sundays with the folks and to the family fitness center on Tuesdays and Thursdays with his brothers.

Instead, he was drafted by Pittsburgh, traded to the Padres, became a born-again Christian, joined the John Birch Society (which angered his parents for a while), became one of the National League’s best pitchers and perhaps has left Boardman forever.

Boardman is a quaint and quiet place. Oh, about 30 years ago, it was a little ritzy. Only doctors and lawyers and other professionals had enough money to live there, and people such as Frank Dravecky lived in the big city 10 miles away--Youngstown. The city folks used to tease the Boardman people. Boardman High School actually had fraternities and sororities, and their sports teams played like sissies.

But time moved on, the city folks moved to the suburbs and Boardman made the plunge from upper to middle class.

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Frank Dravecky moved there.

His wife’s dad owned a small machine shop in Boardman, and one day, his father-in-law asked him to join the business.

“I said, ‘That might be a problem; we’re in-laws,’ ” Frank remembered. “But we became the best of friends. Shortly after, he died. He left me his business, and I was burdened with that and four little boys. But we survived.”

These four little boys were Davey, Ricky, Frankie and Joey. Georgey came later.

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Davey was the oldest and the bossiest. When mom and dad went out, they left Davey in charge.

“He was worse than my parents,” Frankie says. “I’d have rather had my dad there than him.”

Once, Davey bossed Frankie too much. They fought. Frankie grabbed Davey and put him in a chokehold. “Get off! Get off!” Davey screamed. Frankie wouldn’t. Joey went yelling for one of the neighbors, and Frankie wouldn’t let go until that neighbor got there, because Davey would have stomped him if he had.

Ricky, 11 months younger than Davey, had his moments, too. Once, he and Frankie were fighting, and he put Frankie’s head through the garage wall paneling. Both of them had to fix the hole, but still today there is a slight dent.

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Another time, a bully had picked on Frankie, who had come home screaming. Ricky, 15 at the time, went after the bully, caught him and threw him down on his stomach. He asked the boy: “Have you had enough? Have you had enough?”

But the boy wouldn’t answer.

Ricky broke the kid’s arm.

“I tell you,” Frankie says today. “People in our neighborhood used to tell their kids: ‘Don’t mess with the Dravecky boys. There’s four of ‘em.’ ”

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Frankie was the third child, and probably the toughest. He was a football player and thrived on contact.

“He was crazy,” Ricky says.

“Football, it’s a place you could go and let it all loose,” Frankie says. “The crazier you were, the better off you were. When you walk on the field, you’re not the same person. You can do what you want and get away with it.”

Frankie could have played college ball at Youngstown State.

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Except he never studied.

“I wish I would have played college ball,” he says today. “I’m one of these people that wonders ‘What if?’ You wonder if you’d gone, could you have done what your brother (Dave) did? What if I’d gone? Would I have made it? I might have gone further. . . . I’ll go through life wondering.”

Every so often at work, Frankie and Joey--the fourth boy--sit down and talk about football. Joey always brings up the time when Frankie was 14 and clotheslined one of the players from their rival school.

“Oh, I nailed that guy,” Frankie laughed.

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Joey was the most unathletic.

“I always liked sports,” he said. “But I was small. I hated to lift weights, so I never played football because I thought I’d have to lift. I figured they’d laugh at me because I could hardly lift five pounds.”

Sixteen years after Joey was born, Donna Dravecky gave birth to a fifth son--Georgey.

“Someone must have told my father he was getting old,” Ricky says. “He had to prove a point.”

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So now, while Ricky and Frankie and Joey run their dad’s business and Georgey is playing Little League, Davey’s out in California playing big league.

He has grown up without them.

He was born-again without them. Jan, his wife (who also is from Boardman), always read the Bible in front of Dave, but he was not interested. Yet, when he had to spend two months away from her, playing Double-A ball in Amarillo, Tex., he found God.

“For the first time,” Dave said, “I was able to be relieved of the tremendous pressure of playing this game of baseball. When I played ball before, I played for myself. Not that anything’s wrong with that, but by putting Jesus Christ first, I pitching for the glory of Him. Keeping that in mind, I performed as if He were my only audience.”

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He had been raised a strict Catholic, and he said: “My parents were confused about this born-again experience. But I explained, and they understood.”

Then he joined the John Birch Society.

“It was played-down here,” said Jack Jones, his high school baseball coach. “When someone’s that far away, it’s like it just can’t be true. And if it was true, no one here wanted to investigate it. I remember people coming up to me in school, saying: ‘What do you think?’ I said: ‘I’ve known Davey a long time. I’d have to know more about it.’ ”

Ricky says his parents hit the roof when they heard.

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“First of all, we were raised as Catholics, and for him to be born-again, that was kind of hard for us to accept, especially our parents,” Ricky said. “But with the Birch thing? They kind of freaked out. I didn’t think he realized what it was all about, but from the reaction, he realized it was a radical, conservative group, and he realized he had to be careful. I’ll never forget my father saying, ‘Well, it’ll ruin his career.’

“He wanted to defend himself, but he had to wait until my parents calmed down, and that took three, four or five weeks. Then, he sat them down, and they understood. I’m not saying it was a mistake because I didn’t do it, but he realized what he does affects people.”

Dave said: “We (in the Birch Society) do respect God and freedom in this country, and putting that in light to my parents, they understood. It was the misunderstanding of the press that caused the problem. All of a sudden, we (teammates Eric Show and Mark Thurmond also joined) were being blasted all over the country, and naturally, my parents were concerned.”

Now, when he comes home, they’re concerned if he’ll get enough to eat or get in enough golf. When the Padres were in Pittsburgh recently (an hour from Boardman), Dave called and told the folks he’d be bringing home teammates Andy Hawkins, Mark Thurmond, Craig Lefferts and Jerry Royster.

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Georgey jumped up and down.

“Jerry Royster! Jerry Royster! Jerry Royster!”

It seems Dave introduced Georgey to Royster last year, and Georgey was so impressed that he wears Royster’s number (3) on his Little League uniform.

Anyway, as soon as Frank Dravecky heard his son was coming, he called a few friends to find a golf course. There was a problem. They were coming on a Tuesday, and every Tuesday around Boardman is Ladies’ Day. One of Frank’s friends overcame it. He told the women that major leaguers would be gracing their course. The ladies said: “Fine. We just want autographs.”

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After they played, one of Frank’s friends had them over to his house for a lamb roast.

“They were great to us,” Royster said. “I needed to buy new golf shoes, and they wouldn’t let me. They gave me some. And that lamb was great. And in case there wasn’t enough for the five of us, we had a turkey, too. They really took care of us. One of the car companies gave us a car to use. It was no big deal. It was just Dave bringing some guys home. You could see the happiness in that family. You could see where Dave gets his kindness from. His mom and dad and brothers were as courteous as can be.”

Georgey, by the way, was all over Royster.

And Dave?

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“Ah, he’s just my brother,” Georgey was saying.

No place like home.


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