OMAHA, Neb. — A year ago, Jimmy Kerr was staying at the Hilton.
The Michigan baseball team had just been eliminated from the Big Ten tournament by Ohio State, they weren’t making the NCAA tournament, and the worst season of Kerr’s college career was in the books.
“I didn’t have a very good year at all,” he said. “Didn’t get a ton of playing time, hit pretty poorly.”
After a solid sophomore year, Kerr went backward in almost every category as a junior, hitting .176 with one home run and four RBIs in 30 games. He was way too skinny, and his slugging percentage showed it. But still, U-M head coach Erik Bakich thought there was more in the tank — much more.
And so well before his formal season-ending meetings with players began, he pulled Kerr aside after the season and gave him a choice.
“I don’t recall exactly what I said and he probably remembers more of the specifics than I do, but I think it has something to do with how he wants his career here at Michigan to end,” Bakich said. “And if you want to continue to be a student who plays a little bit of baseball on the side and continue to be a little bit of a complementary piece to the team, that’s fine, or you can really get after it.”
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 15, 2019
Kerr remembers more of the specifics: “It’s a meeting I’ll never forget,” he said. “He just got on me and I deserved it. I needed to make some changes as a baseball player — get bigger, get stronger, get faster and put in some hard work, and I owe him for that.”
A year later, he is staying at the hotel next door, U-M is 2-0 at the College World Series, and he’s a recent draftee of the Tigers, who selected him in the 33rd round of this year’s MLB draft.
“Disbelief,” he said. “Coming out of high school — even after my junior year — I never thought it’d be possible.”
Kerr’s story is known by now: He is a third-generation Wolverine, a direct link to the program’s glory days — his father, Derek, played on U-M’s last College World Series team in 1984 and his grandfather, John, played on their last national championship team in 1962.
The Kerr lineage is likely unparalleled in college baseball, with three generations playing on teams that advanced to the College World Series for the same team.
.@umichbaseball‘s Jimmy Kerr will be the third in his family to take the field in Omaha on Saturday.
— Michigan Athletics (@UMichAthletics) June 12, 2019
“What he did is — and he didn’t need me to say anything, because he’s so internally motivated for leaving his mark on this program and it means so much for him to play here,” Bakich said, “But he wanted to stay in Ann Arbor, lift weights all summer and get as strong as he possibly could.”
The end result was adding 20 pounds, transforming his ability as a player. This year, he’s hitting .269 with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs, serving as one of the Wolverines’ most important players as the starting first baseman and a senior leader.
“It translated pretty immediately, too, in the field,” Kerr said, crediting strength and conditioning coach Jason Cole for working with him in the weight room five days a week. “So once the fall came around, I felt like I was a different player.”
Kerr’s off-season wasn’t just weight training, but improving his appetite, as well.
— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) June 18, 2019
“Just a little bit of everything,” he said. “I think I had Chipotle every day for lunch. Every single day.”
Kerr has been U-M’s best offensive player, knocking in three of the team’s seven runs in the CWS. On Saturday against Texas Tech, he keyed the win with a two-run triple. On Monday against Florida State, he drove in a big insurance run with an RBI single. All three RBIs have come with two outs.
Though Kerr grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, his family history always ticketed him to Ann Arbor, where he is adding his own page to the U-M record books with Team 153. His hometown team was the Diamondbacks, he said, but his favorite team has been the Tigers.
He’s considered a hard-nosed player, swings left-handed and is a solid defender at first base. But he credits the work he put in last summer — and the conversation he had with Bakich — as the reason why he’s able to pursue a professional career.
“It wasn’t a fun time for me and I’m sure he didn’t want to have to do it, but he really got into me and I gotta give him a lot of credit for being able to still have an opportunity to play baseball,” Kerr said.
And after the events of the past couple weeks — from getting drafted by the Tigers on the team bus back from a workout at the original Gold’s Gym to beating No. 1-ranked UCLA in the super regionals to taking the inside track at a national title — Kerr has had to pinch himself more than once.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Just a dream come true.”
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This article is written by Anthony Fenech from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.