On September 4, 2004, 26-year-old reliever Jeff Bajenaru made his Major League debut as a member of the Chicago White Sox. In the stands for this momentous occasion was his wife, Alysa.
Two days later Jeff and his new teammates embarked on a road trip to Texas to play the Rangers. Alysa's next move wasn't quite as high-profile. She returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Jeff had been pitching prior to his big league callup, to pack up the life they'd left behind.
"By the time I got back to Charlotte the Minor League season was over," said Alysa. "So there was nobody to help me. Everybody had left. And there was a hurricane coming. It took me 24 straight hours to do all the packing and everything, and it's pouring rain. I finally left and I'm outrunning tornado sirens.
"We had a truck," she continued. "So I got everything in trash bags and I'm trying to outrun this hurricane. But I was in the best mood ever because it was for the best reason. So I'm just kind of laughing about the whole thing."
The promotions, demotions, trades and releases listed daily on the transaction wires often have an effect that goes beyond the players themselves. As Alysa's anecdote illustrates, it's a family affair.
Jeff and Alysa have been married for 14 years, and their family now includes Joe, 9, and Leila, 7. Jeff, currently the pitching coach for the Class A Advanced Visalia Rawhide, has coached within the Arizona Diamondbacks organization since 2011. The family spends the baseball season living in whatever locale Jeff has been assigned to, while spending the offseason in what Alysa calls their "home home" in Arlington, Texas.
Jeff Bajenaru (right) has coached within the D-backs organization since 2011. (Ken Weisenberger/MiLB.com)
The Bajenarus are veterans of the professional baseball existence, accustomed to its highs and lows and general unpredictability. But when they began their relationship, they had, as Jeff puts it, "zero conception" of what they were about to get themselves into. It was the spring of 2000, and both were students at the University of Oklahoma.
"We were both dragged to a party," said Alysa. "We had actually met six months earlier, at a dinner, but we were both in relationships at the time. So then we meet again and it was like, we just knew. I call it love at second sight."
Three weeks after they began dating, Jeff, a fifth-year senior, signed with the Chicago White Sox. He split the 2000 season between Rookie-level Bristol and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. Alysa, still a student, stayed in Oklahoma.
"We had a long distance relationship," said Alysa. "This was before email was used widely so we mailed letters to each other. Now we have stacks of letters."
Jeff proposed to Alysa in 2001, before leaving for his first Spring Training. They got married one year later, again before Jeff left for Spring Training. Alysa graduated in 2002 with a degree in nutritional sciences and began working as a clinical dietician. But once the 2003 season began, with Jeff assigned to Double-A Birmingham, she put those aspirations on hold and dove headfirst into the Minor League life.
"She's way smarter than me," said Jeff. "She could be doing so many more things."
"It's funny because I had been working at a clinic, in a hospital, doing this important work," said Alysa, now the author of the widely read InspiredRD blog. "And then we go to Birmingham and I'm serving beer at the baseball games. I had a beer stand on the concourse level, so I could watch the game and sell beer at the same time."
"She made way more money than I did," said Jeff. "Paid our rent in one dollar bills from beer tips."
"Thirsty Thursdays were my best night," said Alysa.
"Yeah, if we were out of town Thursdays I was not happy," said Jeff. "Because we lost out on a lot of money. She also worked at a golf course in the morning, setting up tee times and stuff. She killed it."
Through all the odd jobs and uncertainty, Alysa said she never had any doubts about her and Jeff's ability to make the relationship work.
"I think the hardest part for me was just getting used to what my role was as a girl in the stands, interacting with other girlfriends and wives," she said. "It's a really great community, and for the most part everybody wants to help each other out. It's nice these days because there's private Facebook groups, so you go on there and say 'Hey, my husband was traded to this team. Where do we look for apartments? Where do I go to find a doctor?' That kind of thing."
But sometimes you just have to go it alone, as Alysa learned in the wake of Jeff's 2004 promotion to the White Sox.
"It's hard on [the player's] end, because you do want to help," said Jeff. "What are you gonna do? 'Sorry, can't help you. Take care of it.' You don't want to be that guy. So you just have to listen. You want to help and you don't know what to do, you know? You're handcuffed."
Jeff pitched in 14 Major League games between 2004 and 2006, missed the entire 2007 season due to injury and retired in 2008. At that point he was a member of the D-backs organization, and the Bajenarus were living in Tucson, Arizona.
"It happened quick and yet it was a slow progression," said Jeff of his retirement. "I'd had [shoulder] surgery -- it was a long year of rehab. You just keep going…. And the day came where I just tried to blow it out and tried to come back and it was still hurting. And I walked in and I retired. I still don't know if I knew what I was doing but I wanted out of the game for a little while, at least."
Alysa continued working within the field of nutrition and fitness, while Jeff got a job at the church they attended. Joe and Leila were born during this hiatus from baseball, which Alysa called "perfect timing."
"It was a weird two years. Being settled felt very unsettling," said Alysa. "To both of us. I was ready to jump back in. We were ready to jump back in."
"A lot of things that I wanted to be doing within that ministry I realized I could also be doing within the game," said Jeff. "Helping these kids live this difficult life, but also teach the game, which I love."
After several months of searching, and a stint at a junior college, Jeff landed a coaching position with the D-backs. He spent three seasons in the Spring Training complex backlots of the Arizona Summer League before being named pitching coach of the Missoula Osprey prior to the 2014 campaign. After two seasons there, he earned a promotion to Visalia. Each step of the way, Alysa, Joe and Leila have joined him.
"[Alysa and I] started out long distance, didn't want to do it, and told ourselves we'd sacrifice financially to be able to stay together," said Jeff. "So when we had kids, we made that decision as well. Wherever that takes us…. We decided to try home school a little bit, see what that was about, and [Alysa] made it a whole research project and dove right in. That's what she does so well."
"Wherever we go, we try to take advantage of where we are," said Alysa. "Like, here in [Visalia] we go to Sequoia, we go to Yosemite, we go camping in the Redwood Forest."
And who knows what next year will bring?
"I don't know," said Jeff. "I feel that life would be fairly boring if we weren't doing what we are doing. I mean, it's hard at times. Financially it's not comfortable. But it's a fun job, it's a good life. The kids love it, and she's amazing. So I'm happy."