Every player on the Michigan baseball team has a mantra. Something they repeat to themselves before every game, every at-bat, every pitch. Something to get them in the mindset they need to be in.
For most players, it’s action-based. Attack. Right now. Pound it.
Not Jimmy Kerr.
His mantra is three letters: J. D. J.
J for John, his grandfather, who played baseball for Michigan in the 1960s. D for Derek, his father, who did the same 20 years later. And J for Jimmy.
He wears their initials on his glove, and he has them on his bat. Every game. Every at-bat. Every pitch.
J. D. J.
“We talk all the time about how we’re standing on the shoulders of great men,” Jimmy said. “It’s something we really value a lot as a program. This is just my own little piece of that, to have my dad and my grandpa with me at all times.”
The Kerrs are a Michigan family.
There’s Jimmy, who’s now a senior in the College of Engineering. Derek met his wife, Carolyn — Jimmy’s mom — when they were graduate students at the Ross School of Business in the early nineties. John also met his wife, Sharon, here when they were students.
In 1962, John won a College World Series as a starting pitcher with Team 96.
In 1983 and 1984, Derek went to the College World Series twice as a catcher with Teams 117 and 118.
Now, in 2019, Jimmy starts at third base as a captain for Team 153.
Though the Kerrs’ Michigan tradition doesn’t start with John — his parents also met here — he was the first in the family to compete for Michigan. As a starting pitcher with the Wolverines from 1960-62, John was a key part of a commanding Michigan pitching staff that helped the Wolverines dominate the Big Ten. More than 50 years later, he still remembers how his “nasty” changeup screwball stifled batter after batter.
“Sophomore Kerr registered his fifth straight win without a defeat and stymied the Spartan batsmen by never allowing a runner to reach second base,” The Daily reported in 1962. “The capable starter kept the ball low and around the plate most of the afternoon, causing the majority of men he faced to hit bounders to the infield.”
Michigan wouldn’t have gotten to the College World Series without John. In the regional final, he pitched both ends of a doubleheader against Illinois and Western Michigan. He threw 313 pitches and won both games to send the Wolverines to Omaha, where they defeated Santa Clara 5-4 in 15 innings.
“(Playing for Michigan) was a great experience — one of the best of my life,” John said. “It brings back such wonderful memories.”
Derek was the next of the Kerrs to put on a uniform for Michigan. After hearing stories from his dad’s years playing with the Wolverines, Derek knew it was a program — and a tradition — he wanted to be a part of.
“I grew up bleeding blue,” he said. “It was always a goal of mine to come here and play at the U of M.”
He walked onto the team as a catcher in 1982 and earned a varsity letter in three of his four years with the team. The Wolverines went to the College World Series his freshman and sophomore years and came close his junior and senior years.
Though Derek did not play much, his four years playing baseball at Michigan were still full of meaning for him. He played on teams with sports agent Casey Close and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who won the World Series in 1990 with the Reds.
Despite his minimal playing time, coming to Michigan and continuing his family’s legacy both on and off the field was a meaningful experience.
“It’s the best academic and athletic institution in the country,” Derek said. “I never thought of going anywhere else for college.”
Growing up in a house with such strong family ties to the Michigan tradition, there was never any question for Jimmy about where he wanted to go to college. After spending his fall Saturdays watching the Wolverines with his father, Jimmy had no doubt that he one day wanted to put on the block ‘M’ for himself.
“It was always my dream, as a baseball player, to come here and play for Michigan,” he said. “Especially having my family around — my parents make it to most games, and my grandparents have lived 30 minutes away for the last four years, so they’re always here — just being able to represent them while they’re in the stands means everything to me.”
But as meaningful as it is for the Kerrs to have Jimmy play for Michigan, it was important to everyone that the program was the right choice for more reasons than just tradition. The family baseball lineage alone could not be the sole reason behind Jimmy’s choice.
Any such concerns were alleviated the minute Jimmy stepped on campus for his recruiting trip. The Kerrs were all impressed with the culture Michigan coach Erik Bakich has created, building not only great athletes but great men.
“It’s special for us as a family for him to have the opportunity to play there. Coach Bakich gave him the opportunity to be a part of the team, and we appreciate that and everything else Coach Bakich has done for him so much,” Derek said. “It means so much to us — the person he’s become playing with such a special group of players and playing under such a special group of coaches.
“It’s one thing to be good athletes, but it’s another thing to develop this group of 35 kids into the people that they are and the people that they’re going to be when they’re done with athletics.”
Though his playing time was limited through his first three seasons at Michigan, Jimmy had plenty of bright spots. He hit .375 with a .531 on-base percentage over 14 games as a freshman and had a .412 slugging percentage and a .964 fielding percentage as a sophomore. As a junior, he knocked out his first home run of the season in a clutch moment to help seal a series win over Rutgers.
But as a senior, Jimmy has stepped into a larger role with the team, starting every game this season. Since settling into a role in the lower middle of Michigan’s batting order, he has 14 hits, three of which were home runs, and 13 RBI on the season so far.
“He’s hitting the ball with a lot of juice in the bat,” Bakich said. “It’s really good to see.”
But for a program that prides itself so much on its history, Jimmy represents more than his offensive production and his defensive statistics. He embodies the tradition and the history that the Michigan baseball program is steeped in.
“To have a guy like that on our team, he’s just such a great inspiration and role model to all the other guys,” Bakich said. “It’s so easy how much it means to him. It’s so much more than most.”
When it faced Manhattan on Mar. 17, Michigan brought out its throwback uniforms. To honor the 1962 team, the Wolverines wore the jerseys that team wore when they won the College World Series, giving Jimmy a chance to don the same jersey as his grandfather did.
“Coach pulled up the picture of the championship team in our meeting today. We hadn’t seen the jerseys before today. When he pulled one out of his bag, it looked almost exactly the same (as the ones the 1962 team wore),” Jimmy said. “It was just so cool to be able to wear his jersey.”
For many, the jerseys were simply a tribute to Michigan teams of years past. For Jimmy and John, they were a symbolic connector, bridging the generations of Kerrs to put on the maize and blue.
“It’s been a fabulous experience to see (Derek) play there and then to see Jimmy play there,” John said. “It’s hard to describe. It’s obviously one of the highlights of my life. I’m glad they had the same experience that I did because it was such a valuable, life-changing experience.”