Ann Arbor — Jimmy Kerr was always going to attend Michigan to study engineering. That was a given when he was growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, always wearing maize and blue when he wasn't in his school uniform.
Like his father, Derek, and grandfather, John, Jimmy Kerr also was a baseball player. When Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich first laid eyes on Kerr, he saw a skinny kid. But Bakich was aware of Kerr’s Michigan lineage.
John Kerr was a pitcher on the 1962 national championship team, the last at Michigan to win a World Series, and Derek was a backup catcher on the 1984 team, the last to reach a World Series for the Wolverines.
Here was this legacy, a kid with some ability who batted lefty, so Bakich added him to the roster as a walk-on. Kerr’s first three seasons were unremarkable. Then, last summer, he stayed in Ann Arbor and worked on his strength. He transformed himself, and that dedication and improvement were enough to move into a starting role this season.
Now, not only has Jimmy Kerr carried on the legacy of three generations playing baseball for the Wolverines, he’s the third Kerr to represent Michigan in the College World Series that begins Saturday when Michigan faces Texas Tech. The Wolverines advanced after upsetting No. 1 overall seed UCLA last weekend.
“It’s just such a special moment,” Derek Kerr said this week. “We were looking around at the kids on the field in the dog pile, and I can’t believe what this team has done. I think Jimmy just getting a chance -- he was a very good ball player in high school -- but Erik gave him the chance to play here and be part of the third generation to play at the school. It’s his dream school.
"He’s an industrial engineer, he wanted to go to engineering school there, and it was special for him to even go there and be at the school. And now, this?
“It’s just hard to put in the words.”
This Kerr is big-time, now
Bakich, in his seventh season at Michigan, never envisioned the type of season Kerr would have. In the NCAA Tournament regional at Oregon State, Kerr, a first baseman, was 5-of-16 including four home runs and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional.
And then, the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 33rd round as a third baseman.
“To go from a guy who really hadn’t played for three years, a complementary player at best, to starter, all-conference, captain, draft pick, third-generation Omaha player, I mean, are you kidding me?” Bakich said. “It is unbelievable.”
John Kerr has been able to attend the postseason games to watch his grandson. He was frequently caught by the television cameras sitting alone, grim-faced.
“He doesn’t look like it on TV, but he’s happy as heck,” Derek Kerr said, laughing. “He sits there and everybody’s like, ‘Does your dad ever smile?’”
Boy does he ever. John Kerr is effusive when he talks about Jimmy.
“He’s a wonderful boy,” he said. “He’s worked hard both academically and obviously in baseball. He’ll do well no matter he does. We’re all amazed. He’s done much better than any of us expected and he’s done it on his own. He’s worked hard and deserves everything that’s happening.”
Who's the best Kerr?
So who is the best player among the Kerr boys?
“Definitely not me,” Derek Kerr said, laughing, making sure to point out he was on the team but didn’t play in the ’84 World Series. “I will say my dad is the best pitcher, and my son is the best offensive player.”
Jimmy made clear one thing — he’s better than his dad.
“In my mind, my grandfather is the best one,” said Jimmy Kerr, whose mother Carolyn’s father, Robert Kessler, was an All-American basketball player at Purdue. “He is unbelievable. What he did in the regionals, throwing back-to-back games, throwing over 300 pitches, I don’t think I could do anything close to that. That’s unbelievable.
"In my mind, grandpa’s always up there. I’d like to think I’m above my dad. We make fun of each other for that, but I think I’ve got him.”
John Kerr, in a monumental performance, threw more than 300 pitches in both ends of a doubleheader against Illinois and Western Michigan to carry the Wolverines to the World Series in 1962.
“Something like that,” he said, laughing. “I don’t think anybody counted pitches back in those days.”
He has admired the way this Michigan team has played during the postseason, bouncing back from the disappointment of finishing second in the Big Ten regular season. John and his grandson have shared stories highlighting the similarities between their teams.
“We talk a lot about it,” Jimmy Kerr said. “When they won the national championship, they didn’t win a Big Ten championship either. They came in second to Wisconsin, so a lot of parallels going on between that year and this year.
“It’s 57 years ago, and I’m getting up in age, and it’s hard to remember those days,” John Kerr said. “It’s quite similar. We finished second in the Big Ten like they did. They do it basically on defense and pitching. They get enough hitting to win the games. We were much the same way. We didn’t have any superstars.
"Dave Campbell was the only one who had an extended major league career, but he was a sophomore and wasn’t one of the leading players that year. Much the same way as this team. Actually, they have better talent than we did. We had good consistency throughout the line up from one to nine, and it paid off. There’s quite a few similarities like that.”
'Fun to watch'
The Michigan baseball team’s run to its first College World Series since 1984 has been a feel-good story for the fan base. Players from the ’84 team this week said they have communicated with each other on a regular basis during this postseason, and the added draw is their teammate Derek’s kid is on the team.
“He is one of the nicest, most sincere, good people on the face of this earth,” Casey Close, a key member of that 1984 team, said of Derek. “He wasn’t able to play the important role when we played, but his role was as important as anyone’s.
"For him to do what he did and study and do all the things he did and find time and be a part of it and have limited success and limited playing time and now for him to experience it this way, we just couldn’t be happier for him, for Jimmy, for everyone there.
“Derek deserves this. He deserves this moment more than any of us because of what he did and how he handled himself in a situation where most selfish people wouldn’t be like that. We are so pleased for Derek and all the things coming his way now.
"It’s just fun to watch because it’s such a level of sincerity, it’s a feel-good story as a university and as a team, but for us to have it so personalized with him there is pretty cool.”
Jimmy Kerr has been smiling a lot these days, almost like he’s not sure if he’s been dreaming all of this. How many people can say they represent the third-generation family member to play for the same program in a College World Series? Derek Kerr, who has been to the majority of his son’s games this season, can’t quite believe what has unfolded, but what he does know is these moments and these teammates will be forever a part of his son.
“My dad played, and my son is gonna play in the World Series,” Derek Kerr said. “I was part of this squad and part of the team and lettered three years. The best buddies I have are from there. That’s what I think is the key thing. I always tell Jimmy this. I watched those kids after the game the other night (at UCLA), and they were downstairs all together, and I said, ‘No matter what happens, man, this is your crew. These are your buddies you will remember for the rest of your life.’”
College World Series schedule
At Omaha, Nebraska; Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Game 1 — Michigan (45-20) vs. Texas Tech (44-18), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2 —Florida State (41-21) vs. Arkansas (46-18), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 — Louisville (49-16) vs. Vanderbilt (54-11), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4 — Mississippi State (51-13) vs. Auburn (38-26), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6 —Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 9 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 10 — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Friday, June 21
Game 11 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 12 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, June 22
x-Game 13 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
x-Game 14 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Monday, June 24: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, June 25: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
x-Wednesday, June 26: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)