The first decoration that anyone walking into K2 — Michigan baseball alumni Ben Keizer and Jimmy Kerr’s new training facility — sees is a blown-up picture of the 2019 Michigan baseball team dogpiling on the pitcher’s mound.
To the youth and high school players who walk into the storage warehouse-turned-training facility, the picture signifies the pedigree of the coaches they’re about to work with, but it means much more to those coaches themselves.
To Keizer and Kerr, that image represents their past, one of their favorite moments and the connection to their former teammates that they have drawn on in the aftermath of a months-long quarantine.
“The times it’s been the roughest is when you’re by yourself,” Kerr said. “At least for me, when I’m by myself is when it’s hard to stay motivated. You just kind of feel like, you know, you start to question things.”
There is no doubting that the time where athletes were unable to train with their teammates was trying on their mental health. After all, for Keizer, Kerr and many others, these past few months were the longest they’ve gone without playing organized sports since they learned how to multiply and divide.
Even more profoundly, it’s the longest they’ve gone without just being around their teammates — which Keizer and Kerr made abundantly clear are like their brothers.
“A lot of teams talk about family and we’re all in this together,” Keizer said. “But at Michigan, it actually means what it sounds like. And when you’re alone, and you’re by yourself, it can get dark. It’s a tough period, especially when it’s something that you’ve never gone through before.”
With that family culture so deeply ingrained, it makes complete sense that the players would feel somewhat empty without each other, but it also shines light on why they were so quick to develop a plan to reunite.
According to the two founders, four of their former teammates — Jordan Nwogu, Jack Weisenburger, Jack Blomgren and Jeff Criswell — have been training regularly at K2, and another six have shown up at least once.
“It’s fun to stick around with the guys,” Kerr said. “Having us all around here and having these guys come in every day makes it a lot more fun, at least for us and just kind of doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like we’re still hanging out with our baseball guys.”
Kerr and Keizer explain that their idea for the facility began as just a place for the pair to work out during the fall, but the idea has clearly blossomed from there.
“We decided to turn it into something where we could make a little bit of money out of this,” Kerr said. “We ended up signing down here in August. There was some good timing and just everything kinda fell into place.”
Though its most apparent value stems from its status as a place for alumni to train together, the facility has developed as a business venture as well.
“At the beginning, we were just trying to get anybody who wanted to come in and get better,” Kerr said. “We had an idea of running a high school training program, and that’s picked up recently with a lot of (Ann Arbor) Pioneer kids coming in. We’ve had a good amount of lessons — pitching and hitting lessons. And now that the high school program is picking up, our schedule is filling up.”
The coaching sessions might be filling up a lot of Keizer and Kerr’s schedule, but they are still committed to making time to reconnect with their former teammates.
At Michigan, it is somewhat of a perennial tradition that recent program alumni who were drafted before graduating come back to Ann Arbor the next couple Septembers to take classes and train in Michigan’s facilities. But as a result of COVID-19 protocols limiting university facilities to current university athletes, this tradition was in jeopardy of being canceled in the year where its participants needed it most.
The first fall training session would have been the first time drafted seniors and juniors returned to their collegiate facilities since they all shared three hours worth of tears, emotions and memories in what Keizer described as “that last moment on the field,” but circumstances led to that reunion occurring in K2 rather than Oosterbaan Fieldhouse or Ray Fisher Stadium.
The moment lost no meaning, though.
“I think as an athlete, I kind of took going into the locker room everyday for granted,” Keizer said. “But now that that was taken away from us, and we don’t see each other every day, making that effort to reach out and stay connected has just brought us even closer.”
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