Jimmy Kerr's power surge electrifying Michigan's College World Series run

By Dan Hoppen
Special to The Detroit News

Omaha, Neb. — “Chicks dig the long ball,” outfielder Jesse Franklin told reporters in the locker room Monday night, “and so do the guys on the same team.”

If that’s the case, everyone loves Jimmy Kerr right now.

Michigan's Jimmy Kerr, right, celebrates after hitting a 2-run home run against Vanderbilt during the seventh inning of Game 1 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 24, 2019.

As recently as two weeks ago, “power hitter” is one of the last ways one would describe Kerr. The Michigan first baseman had 10 home runs in the first 141 games of his career, including two in his first three years.

But Kerr has discovered his power stroke this postseason. He’s blasted seven bombs in Michigan’s last 11 games, including a moonshot in the seventh inning Monday that helped clinch the Wolverines’ 7-4 win over Vanderbilt in the opener of the College World Series Final.

Kerr became the first Michigan player to go yard three times in the CWS.

To put things in perspective, Kerr was averaging one home run per 39.5 at-bats in his career prior to this postseason. During this 11-game run, he’s averaging a homer every 6.4 at-bats.

“Aside from the starting pitchers, Jimmy has been the biggest reason we’re here,” Franklin said. “He’s having so many huge power hits. Not only do they score runs for us, but when you’re on defense and you see a big run go out, you feel less confident.”

Kerr’s power binge began in the Corvallis Regional, when he thumped four home runs in four games en route to being named the regional’s most outstanding player. He didn’t leave the yard in the Los Angeles Super Regional against UCLA, but he’s made up for lost time in Omaha. Kerr homered twice in UM’s 15-3 win over Texas Tech Friday.

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His masterpiece came Monday night. After Michigan jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first two innings, Vanderbilt scratched back to 4-3 in the sixth. But Kerr provided necessary breathing room in the following frame, depositing a low delivery from Commodore reliever Zach King into the right-field stands, just beyond the Michigan bullpen.

Michigan baseball runs in the Kerr family blood, as Jimmy’s father (Derek) and grandfather (John) were standouts in Ann Arbor. Jimmy is adding to the family lore, as he leads all players (or is tied for lead) at the CWS in hits (seven), runs (six), RBIs (eight), and total bases (19).

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After the two-homer performance against Texas Tech, Michigan coach Erik Bakich called Kerr’s run a “Hollywood script.” Kerr just keeps adding chapters.

Throughout Michigan’s postseason run, Bakich has stressed the importance of “shrinking the moment,” not worrying about the pressure and circumstances. Perhaps no Wolverine has done that better than Kerr.

“The way this has been working is to not get outside of ourselves and not make things too big, and our guys have done a great job of that,” Bakich said. “They know what they're playing for. They know what the stakes are. They know the stage. They know everything. 

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“But they're not acting like the stage and the lights and the moment is too big because I think they're doing a really good job of just staying in the moment with each other and having as much fun as they can and being as loose as they possibly can.”

Of course, all Kerr wanted to talk about after the game were his other four at-bats, in which he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The senior deflected the praise to Michigan’s defense and another strong performance from starter Tommy Henry (three earned runs in 8.1 innings).

But Kerr’s teammates don’t buy his humility. They know how important he is to Michigan’s success. And while his power streak may have come as a pleasant surprise, there was no doubting how important his contributions to the team have been.

Michigan is one win away from a national championship, and it wouldn’t be possible without Kerr.

“I think he’s just got all the confidence in the world,” shortstop Jack Blomgren said. “He’s got his grandpa and his dad here, and he’s feeding off that energy. He’s just doing it for Michigan. He’s a Michigan man, and I’m so proud to see him have success. He’s one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with and one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with.”

Dan Hoppen is a freelance writer.