Bejzbol reprezentacija Srbije
Posted 20 May 2018 - 11:12
Posted 23 July 2018 - 19:31
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.
International Baseball Challenge
Serbia 6, Croatia 4
Serbia 12, Northwest Indiana Oilmen (North America) 5
BASEBALL NOTEBOOK: Team effort key to International Baseball Challenge's success
WHITING — For the week-long International Baseball Challenge at Whiting's Oil City Stadium, teamwork was the difference between success and failure for the goodwill event featuring teams from Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia and North America.
The Northwest Indiana Oilmen represented North America.
"I can't begin to tell you what the city of Whiting has done to make this possible," IBC president George Grkinich said Sunday. "Everyone has been phenomenal — from the mayor's office to the grounds crew doing a great job so these two games could happen today."
The groundskeepers at Oil City Stadium include Joe Franko, Adi Cruz, Matt Augustyn, Anthony Sotello, Austin Plemons and Ben Bombin, and they had to contend with rain Saturday that postponed one semifinal and forced the other to be played in St. John.
"I can't say enough good things about Mayor Joe (Stahura) and what he's done for this tournament. We're going to be back next year."
There will be a new look at the 2019 games.
"Whoever wins (today) will be invited back," Grkinich said before Sunday night's title game between the Oilmen and Serbia. "The other three teams are still undecided, possibly Poland, possibly Greece.
"We created this tournament to give smaller baseball federations throughout Europe an opportunity to play at a higher level. Many of these teams will never be good enough to qualify for the World Baseball Classic."
Grkinich, a 1988 E.C. Central graduate, added: ""But this is good baseball. They're great players, great kids."
Good crowds all week seemed to agree.
Lofton steals the show
East Chicago native and former Major League Baseball star outfielder Kenny Lofton had a head-spinning Saturday.
He flew in early from Los Angeles, threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Slovakia-North America afternoon semifinal at Lake Central, then was guest speaker at that evening's IBC banquet held at the Croatian Center in Merrillville.
"He was there until about 11:30 and the kids had a blast," Grkinich said. "He was telling them clubhouse stories, teaching them how to steal a base without the pitcher catching on that you're going to steal, giving them hitting techniques and the kids loved it.
"As we were leaving, he gave me a hug in the parking lot and said: 'Hey, this is awesome. I'll be back next year.'"
Team Serbia needed some additional players, so it added five players from Northwest Indiana who are of Serbian descent: Nick Hamilton (Munster), infielder Matt Bulatovich (Whiting graduate), pitcher Conner Tomasic (Lake Central grad), infielder Daniel Balich (Hanover Central grad) and pitcher Cal Djuraskovic (Bishop Noll graduate).
Bulatovich was a sophomore on the Hannibal-LaGrange baseball team this spring. The Trojans are an NAIA program in Missouri. Tomasic is a freshman-to-be at Purdue. Djuraskovic was a redshirt sophomore at Davenport (Michigan), a Division II team, in 2018.
A 'super' intervention
Saturday's rain didn't stop one of two semifinal games, the Slovakia-North America matchup, from being played — at Lake Central, of all places.
"That was the 11th hour," Grkinich said. "We were stuck. We didn't know what to do. We couldn't play here at Oil City Stadium. I was calling Chicago State. I was calling Northwestern. I was calling everybody under the sun."
Grkinich phoned his nephew, Chris Torres, who works in the Lake Central school system. Torres then contacted superintendent Larry Veracco at home.
"And he got us the field," said a smiling Grkinich.
No age limit
Serbia pitcher Danijel Kozjak was the oldest player competing at age 43. The youngest was teammate Nick Hamilton, also a pitcher, and Slovakia pitcher Zacko Adam, both 17.
Posted 25 July 2018 - 14:05
When Team Serbia catcher Danilo Cvijovic was 12 years old, he went to play soccer and ended up discovering baseball.
“Near the soccer field was a baseball practice,” he said. “They had three guys and said they needed two more to play a game. That’s how I started to play.”
Someone like Cvijovic, who plays baseball in countries where sports like basketball and soccer reign supreme, was the motivation for George Grkinich to organize the International Baseball Challenge.
“We wanted to give these countries an opportunity to compete on an international level on the land where baseball started,” Grkinich said.
With Cvijovic behind the plate Sunday night at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Serbia defeated North America 12-5 in the championship game of the IBC.
Grkinich wants this to be an annual event. As the first IBC reached its conclusion, the 1988 East Chicago Central graduate who now lives in Colorado was already talking about next year.
Serbia will have an invitation to return after winning this season, and Grkinich said teams from Poland, Greece and Croatia are on the shortlist for 2019.
Grkinich beamed as he talked about this year’s event, which went “unbelievably well,” he said.
When rain affected the Oil City Stadium field, Grkinich credited Lake Central superintendent Larry Veracco with an assist for opening the turf field at Lake Central for semifinals.
That made Serbia’s semifinal a home game for Conner Tomasic, a 2018 Lake Central graduate who will play at Purdue in the fall. He was one of several American-born players with Serbian roots on the team’s roster.
Tomasic was named the tournament MVP after a week of dominance at the plate. In the championship game, he went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks, two RBIs and four runs scored.
But Tomasic’s takeaway from the tournament centered on the dedication to baseball from the players who live in Serbia.
“It’s humbling,” Tomasic said. “You see what everyone from Serbia has to do on a regular basis and they still find time to fit in baseball. They probably work 10 times harder than any American because they love the game that much.”
Serbia had an enthusiastic following throughout the week, fueled by fans from the Serbian community throughout the Chicago area who attended the games.
That made the Northwest Indiana Oilmen players on North America’s roster feel like the road team at the ballpark that’s their home during the Midwest Collegiate Season.
Oilmen infielder Tyler Kenjic, a 2016 Hobart graduate who now plays at Purdue Northwest, indicated as much.
“The people who came out for Serbia and the fans they brought really made the games against them interesting,” Kenjic said.
Kenjic has Serbian roots as well. His grandfather grew up in Serbia before moving to America in the 1930s. Tyler smiled as he watched Serbia’s players pile on top of each other in celebration after winning the tournament.
“It’s a different energy they have,” Kenjic said. “You can tell they’re having a great time. You don’t get to see this too much.”