John Kerr, who played on the 1962 Michigan national title team, talks about his grandson, Michigan's Jimmy Kerr, and the national title team. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Omaha, Neb. – If you've been following the Michigan baseball team's run in the NCAA Tournament, you know about the Kerr family.
John Kerr, the grandfather of senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr, played on the Wolverines’ 1962 national championship team, and Jimmy’s father, Derek, was on the 1984 team. And now Jimmy and the Wolverines are playing for a national title.
Three generations of Kerrs representing Michigan in a College World Series.
And while this has been an amazing ride for the Kerr family, one member won’t be able to attend. He’s not allowed. He has been banned.
This is what happens when your brother – Derek – is superstitious, especially when his kid and the Wolverines are playing for a national championship beginning Monday night in a best-of-three series against Vanderbilt.
An older brother, also named John like his father, and also a Michigan alum, lives in Las Vegas and over the years has made an effort to see his nephew and team play while on the West Coast. They never win when John Kerr III is in attendance. He also has made trips to watch him play in Ann Arbor. And they don’t win there, either, when he’s in the stands.
Derek Kerr began to suspect his brother was bad luck. This is baseball, after all, and superstitions are part of the fabric of this sport for players and fans. During the Wolverines’ senior weekend in early May during a three-game series with Indiana at Fisher Stadium, he got the proof he needed.
“We said, ‘Are you really coming? You’ve never seen him win,’” Derek Kerr said Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park. “So they lose the first two games against Indiana, and then the third game I go into the stadium, and he’s there and I said, ‘Are you really here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to watch this game.’ So I ignored him and left and came to figure out he stayed for three innings and we were down 3-0 or 4-0 and he left and went to the Pretzel Bell and watched the rest of the game from the Pretzel Bell. We came back and won the game. In the baseball world, that means he’s never seen them win a game.”
Once the NCAA Tournament started and Michigan found out it would be sent west, Derek had a simple, laced-with-sibling-guilt question for his older brother, who absolutely wanted to join his brothers – younger brother Bruce is allowed – and father at the games.
“I said, ‘Would you rather have your nephew win that national championship or you see one of the games?’" Derek said, not giving him a chance to answer. “'So stay in Vegas and watch.'”
So John Kerr III is, well, taking one for the team. That hasn’t stopped him from poking fun at Derek, milking this as only an older brother can.
“Derek gets a little wound up, so it’s all good,” John III said Sunday in a phone interview. “I called Derek yesterday and said, ‘What time you picking me up at the airport today? He goes, ‘Oh, no, no no.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I need a ride. You can pick me up.’ He said, ‘No, no, I’m not picking you up, call (younger brother) Bruce.’ He’s always like this. Derek goes off and sits by himself and wanders around the game. He’s been that way since Little League.”
But John III still has everyone guessing.
“I got a text from my mother, who actually thought there was a possibility I was at the game Friday (when Jimmy Kerr hit two home runs) but didn’t tell anybody and was hiding somewhere,” he said, laughing. “But no.”
Derek is sincerely appreciative of the support he has received from his brothers, John III and Bruce, as his son and the Wolverines have made this magical postseason run.
“They’ve been awesome,” Derek said. “Even though he can’t come to a lot of the games because he lives in Vegas, we talk about the games all the time. We talked (Sunday) morning how great this is and how special this is for him and how he’s watching every play and every out. It’s been a special family thing with my dad and all that. They’ve been incredibly supportive of Jimmy and the team.
“He’s just not allowed at a game. He can come to town, he just can’t come into the stadium. He’s been saying, ‘I’m coming to town, I’m coming to town.’ My last words to him were, ‘If you come to town, don’t tell me. Get a seat in the outfield, and we’ll find you later. But don’t tell me about it.’”
The bond among the brothers is deep. They learned the game from their father, who pitched monumental back-to-back games of a doubleheader, throwing 313 pitchers to push Michigan into the World Series in 1962. John Kerr III said his father never talked much about that performance but one day as a Detroit News newspaper boy, he saw a feature in the paper on the 10 greatest feats in Michigan athletic history. There was his father way up on that list.
He describes what is happening with his nephew, Jimmy, and the Wolverines as “surreal.”
“Jimmy, to have heard this all his life, I really think there’s something going on here that has propelled him to where he is today because he feels this sort of, like he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who did this thing that today would be considered amazing,” John Kerr said. “It’s fascinating.”
The eldest John Kerr laughingly admitted it’s a little unfair his oldest son isn’t allowed in to watch the games, but he also admits Michigan just doesn’t win when he’s around. So with that in mind, he would just like to enjoy watching his grandson and this team play to win Michigan’s third baseball national championship.
“It’s like living a dream for me to watch this team and watch my grandson, in particular, do what he’s doing,” John Kerr said Sunday. “It feels entirely like a dream. I think I’ll wake up at some point in time, but it’s fun to see while it lasts.”
Unfortunately for Jimmy’s uncle, John III, he will have to watch on television. Unless … he sneaks into TD Ameritrade Park and doesn’t tell anyone.
Michigan vs. Vanderbilt
What: Best-of-three College World Series championship
When: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary)
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
TV: All games on ESPN