Tourney a tribute to Stevie5-1-10/Chicago Mt. Carmel players hug Mark Bajenski after a memorial service for his son, Steven Bajenski, near the field during a ceremony in his honor at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago, IL on Saturday May 1, 2010 TIN_bajenski_P3/sports Matt Marton/SouthtownStar
Steven Bajenski wasn’t a five-tool guy or a flame-throwing pitcher.
That’s why he wasn’t at the top of a lot of college baseball coaches’ wish lists as he entered his senior year at Mount Carmel.
“In 2009, he was really panicking because the offers weren’t flying,” his dad, Mark Bajenski, said this week. “But the coach from Oakland in Michigan, he actually called him. He was giving him a scholarship. It was all because of what he was.”
Stevie Bajenski was a kid who got it, an undersized guy who lived and breathed baseball, who honored the game by playing it the right way. That approach got him the starting second-base job at Mount Carmel, one of the state’s premier programs year in and year out, and it earned him the respect of his coaches, his teammates and his rivals.
Bajenski never got to play at Oakland, though. He died Aug. 28, 2009, from complications from heart surgery. He was 17.
But his legacy lives on. Mount Carmel renamed the Caravan Award, which goes each year to a freshman and sophomore baseball player who best exemplifies what it means to be a good teammate. The Bajenski family founded the Do It Stevie’s Way 219 Foundation, which works to support those who supported Steven during his too-short life: Mount Carmel; Ronald McDonald House, where his family stayed during his hospitalization; and various youth sports organizations in and around his hometown of Mokena.
Last year, the foundation staged the Do It Stevie’s Way Challenge, a one-day, four-game event at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood. The response prompted Mark Bajenski to dream a little bigger, and so was born the First Annual Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament.
The eight-team tourney, which features pool play leading to a bracketed final, got underway last Friday, when Providence knocked off New Trier 5-1 on a windy evening at North Park University. The other first-round games will be next Thursday, one at Benedictine University in Lisle and two at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. Pool play concludes May 18 at those sites, with the finals set for May 19 at Standard Bank Stadium. The title game will be at 7 p.m.
The event has a strong South Side flavor, with Catholic League Blue rivals Mount Carmel, Providence, St. Laurence and St. Rita along with Marian Catholic and Oak Lawn. Broadening the scope are traditional powers from the north (New Trier) and west suburbs (Oak Park-River Forest).
New Trier coach Mike Napoleon, whose team has played Mount Carmel for years, jumped at the chance to be in the event. He even joked with Mark Bajenski at the coaches’ meeting: “You guys thought you had the best tournament last year and we weren’t in it?”
Now the Trevians are in, and Mark Bajenski is on his way to his goal of creating the state’s premier tournament outside of the IHSA playoffs. The competition will be top notch. But that’s not the only thing that sets this event apart.
Proceeds will benefit a host of good causes: scholarships for Mount Carmel and the Illinois Sparks travel program Steven played for; Ronald McDonald House; ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research, in memory of Caravan assistant coach Tony Morsovillo, who died Dec. 30, 2010 after battling the ailment.
There will be no admission charge for the tournament before Saturday. Donations will be welcomed, though, and souvenir tickets will be handed out for Saturday’s games. Hats, T-shirts and hoodies will be available as well.
This has been an emotional week for the Bajenski family. Christine Bajenski, Mark’s mother and Steven’s grandmother, passed away last Saturday, and her funeral was Thursday. Tuesday would have been Steven’s 20th birthday, a day he shared with his mother, Karen.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” Mark Bajenski said. “I’m fortunate that the foundation has a real good board. And the volunteers have been outstanding.”
It’s no surprise. All of these people are honoring Steven Bajenski in the best way possible: by going about their work in the same spirit of cooperation, dedication and grinding away for a good cause that he exemplified in his brief life.
For more information on the tournament and the Do It Stevie’s Way 219 Foundation, go to doitsteviesway219.com.