WHITING — Popcorn and butter. Brian Jennings and baseball. You can't separate the two.
If there's competitive high school baseball being played in Northwest Indiana, there's a good chance Jennings will be in the stands, taking notes or calling games on the radio.
The long-time head coach served as operations director for George Grkinich's week-long International Baseball Challenge at Oil City Stadium.
All four teams — the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, who were representing North America; Serbia; Croatia or Slovakia — held their own.
Scoring in six of their nine innings Sunday night, the Serbia national team pounded the Oilmen 12-5 with Lake Central grad and Purdue recruit Conner Tomasic winning the MVP Award.
It was an entertaining watch for Jennings, a 1987 Whiting grad who's coached 23 years, including the last 20 at Griffith.
"This is good, quality baseball at the college level, Division II or maybe the lower Division I level," Jennings said. "You got guys out here who played professional baseball and they're grown men in a lot of cases. They're more physically mature and developed.
"I'm impressed with the fundamentals. Guys are bunting early in the games, they're executing bunts, executing hit-and-runs, they know when to throw the ball and to which base. That's a tribute to the coaching they're getting in their home countries."
Tomasic reached base 10 consecutive times on the day, including four times in the first game of the day, a 6-4 semifinal victory over Croatia, when he had two hits, three RBIs and also got the save.
In the title game, the slick-fielding shortstop continued his tear with three hits, a pair of RBIs and four runs.
"As a leadoff hitter, I try to get on any way I can ... hit, error. From there, I know I can do something for my team. It's mostly on instinct," said Tomasic, one of five local players with Serbian heritage who served as a fill-in player for the Serbian squad.
"It's already special to me, having this (Serbia) emblem on my jersey. Being the MVP is awesome, too."
Soccer and basketball no longer have a stranglehold in the foreign countries competing in the IBC, according to Grkinich and Jennings.
"Until George brought me here last year, that was my impression," Jennings said. "But as I sit and talk with (baseball) coaches from Serbia, they know the game and are very fundamentally sound.
"Baseball is an international sport. You just don't think of it as a European sport."
Until now, maybe.