Omaha, Neb. — If you’ve been following Michigan baseball’s postseason run, you know all about senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr.
He represents the third generation of the Kerr family to play in the College World Series. His grandfather, John, was a pitcher at Michigan when the Wolverines won the national title in 1962, and his father, Derek, was on the 1984 Michigan team, the last from the program to reach the series.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich on Friday referred to the Kerr’s story as a “Hollywood script.” And it gets better. Jimmy Kerr didn’t play much his first three seasons but after working on his strength and hitting last summer, he was voted a captain, earned All-Big Ten honors, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA regional, and has been a vital piece of the Wolverines’ deep tournament run.
In Michigan’s 15-3 victory over Texas Tech on Friday that sent the Wolverines to the best-of-three national championship series at TD Ameritrade Park, Kerr hit two solo home runs and was 4-for-6. He has a team-best 14 home runs this season.
“Seeing Jimmy do that, he’s older than me, but I’m proud of him,” said teammate Jordan Nwogu, who had three RBIs in the victory. “Knowing his story, I played with him last year, he struggled. He batted like .100, and now he’s leading the team in home runs.
"He works so hard. He’s in the cages all the time, and seeing that finally pay off for him, proud is the only word. I look up to him as a player. I’m just glad for him.”
Catcher Joe Donovan said timely hitting and pitching by a number of different players has distinguished Michigan’s tournament run.
“Everybody has pulled the rope in the same direction,” Donovan said. “Today was him, as it has been so many other days this season. For a senior to do it, it’s just so cool.”
Michigan first baseman Jimmy Kerr launched two home runs in Friday's win over Texas Tech. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Kerr said the fact Michigan is playing for a national title, something his grandfather achieved with his Michigan team in 1962, hasn’t quite hit him.
“I don’t think so,” Kerr said. “I’m so focused on spending time and playing more games with this team that it’s more fun than anything, than realizing what we’ve done. It will hit me eventually, but we’ve still got some more games to play. We’re playing good teams, we’re playing good baseball and we’re having a lot of fun doing it. It’s a crazy cool atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun.”
Kerr also knows being the third generation to play in the CWS is something to enjoy.
“I think it’s ingrained in me and how much care I have for the Block 'M' and how much it means to me and my family,” he said. “It makes everything that’s been happening so much more fun, so much more special.”
Athletic director Warde Manuel, clutching what he calls his lucky — albeit too small — Michigan hat, was beside himself after watching the Wolverines rout Texas Tech to advance to the championship series.
Michigan is playing for its first national title since 1962. The program also won it all in 1953.
‘I’m blown away by this team and their effort and the way they’ve won," Manuel said. "The pitching, how they’re playing defense, their hitting at key times. I’m so proud of the team and the student-athletes and Erik Bakich and the staff. I’m just overjoyed for them, for Michigan.
"To not have been in it for 35 years, to not have won since 1962 and to have a chance, that's all you can ask for in life. I tell the kids all time, is you compete to win, and you compete to have a chance to win. They put themselves in a great position to do that.”
So back to the hat. It’s 7 5/8 — “a couple of sizes too small,” Manuel said — but he won’t be making a change.
“I’ve been squeezing in this hat since the World Series started, so it’s my lucky hat,” he said, laughing. “I’m going to keep the hat.”
It was the Karl Kauffmann-Jeff Criswell show again against Texas Tech.
Kauffmann started the first game of the series against Texas Tech and the third game on Friday, and Criswell came in in relief to secure both wins. Kauffmann went six innings in the 15-3 victory and gave up six hits, three runs and had two strikeouts on 100 pitches. Criswell pitched the final three innings and had six strikeouts.
“It was kind of the similar approach to last week,” Kauffmann said. “It was come out, attack, minimize their opportunities early in the game. Gave up a few too many free passes and it showed.
"So the plays the defense made behind me when they needed to — Ako (Thomas), that play up the middle in top of the third, huge. Jack Blomgren, in the hole — there's plays all day being made. So just giving us the best chance to win and keeping the game close, that was kind of my mindset.”
Donovan said while Kauffmann was missing some of his edge, he still had plenty to give.
“His command wasn’t there, but the stuff was definitely there,” Donovan said. “Today, his stuff ticked up so when his control didn’t allow him to get to a 2-0 count, his absolute fastball just drops off the table. You can throw it down the middle, and it’s going to drop 16 or however many inches, and you can’t hit that hard. If you do, it’s lucky.
"When he did get ahead, it was amazing because then he allowed himself to use the sink to be that much better, but when he might have gotten behind in a count, his stuff was so good it allowed him to get quick innings when it might have gone badly.”
Michigan catcher Joe Donovan on how team shrugs off the nerves and pressure that comes with playing in the College World Series. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
College World Series schedule
At Omaha, Nebraska; Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Saturday, June 15
Game 1 — Michigan 5, Texas Tech 3
Game 2 — Florida State 1, Arkansas 0
Sunday, June 16
Game 3 — Vanderbilt 3, Louisville 1
Game 4 — Mississippi State 5, Auburn 4
Monday, June 17
Game 5 — Texas Tech 5, Arkansas 4
Game 6 — Michigan 2, Florida State 0
Wednesday, June 19
Game 7 — Louisville 5, Auburn 3
Game 8 — Vanderbilt 6, Mississippi State 3
Game 9 — Texas Tech 4, Florida State 1
Thursday, June 20
Game 10 —Louisville 4, Mississippi State 3
Friday, June 21
Game 11 — Michigan 15, Texas Tech 3
Game 12 — Vanderbilt 3, Louisville 2
Monday, June 24: Michigan (49-20) vs. Vanderbilt (57-11), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, June 25: Michigan vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
x-Wednesday, June 26: Michigan vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPN)