As a bona fide pitcher, one of Raymond Kerr’s early memories that provided the propulsion into a career in baseball began from the plate as a lesson to his older brother.
After time spent in school putting batters away with an ever-improving skillset on the mound, Raymond decided to trade places and have his brother, Richard Alexander, who spent time as an outfielder, try his hand at throwing.
The Kerr brothers and a few other friends stopped by a field in their hometown of Reno, Nevada, to mess around.
With Richard offering up his best stuff, Ray took his brother to school.
“First one he pitched to me was inside, and I hit it over the fence,” Kerr recalled with joy. “He said it was harder than it looks.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s all about location.’ It’s location over anything else.”
The home run ball Raymond hit that day is one of the few anyone has seen with a Kerr on the field, and especially rare with two Kerrs. Since then, Raymond has developed into a hot pitching ace that can throw a collegiate batter off his game with a variety of pitches.
And, while he got the best of his brother that day from the plate, Kerr has managed to stay humble while his stock has risen.
“He’s faster than me, I’ll give him that,” Kerr said.
These days, the 22-year-old lefty is busy lighting up the Alaska Baseball League with his arm. Playing for the Peninsula Oilers, Kerr has unleashed an ERA of 0.90 onto opposing lineups, striking out 14 batters in 20 innings on his way to the stingy average. Kerr’s low ERA currently leads the league among pitchers with 20 or more innings. In three starting appearances, Kerr has a 1-0 record as a pitcher.
Kerr is slated to start Saturday’s ABL contest against the Chugiak Chinooks. The Oilers and Chinooks play a three-game series at Coral Seymour Memorial Park beginning tonight at 7 p.m.
Those who have seen Kerr’s best stuff have become believers in the young man. Just ask 2017 Peninsula Oilers pitching coach Ryan Doran, a young veteran who has time spent in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.
“He’s raw,” Doran said. “That’s one of the most impressive things about him, he’s a blank slate when it comes to a lot of stuff, he can learn so much more and get so much better. It’s mind blowing.”
Doran said Kerr exhibits a smooth delivery that tends to start with an assortment of off-speed pitches such as curves and other breaking balls, helping him gain an edge in the pitch count. He then finishes with an aggressive fastball that gives young batters, especially left-handed swingers, a hard time.
“A lot of guys have a fastball that lights up a radar gun, but it may not have the same life as his does,” Doran explained.
Oilers head coach Jim Dietz, a veteran who has seen a lot of baseball in his long coaching career, said Kerr has all the physical attributes needed to be a professional pitcher, qualities that include being very athletic, left-handed and tall. Kerr stands at 6-foot-3.
But, Dietz said, it was an old friend that piqued his interest in Kerr. Frank Avilla, a longtime buddy out of Lassen Community College in northern California, spent time coaching Kerr and informed Dietz that he had the pitcher for him.
“My first fear was is he going to be good enough?” Dietz said. “Well, (Kerr) may be the best pitcher in the league right now.”
Kerr just finished up two seasons at Lassen College and is set to play for Cumberland University, an NAIA school in Lebanon, Tennessee, in the fall.
Born and raised in Sacramento (California), Kerr got serious with baseball at age 12, but had to take a year off from sports due to a family move.
Eventually, the family settled in Reno as Kerr was entering the eighth grade.
The southpaw posted a 2.97 ERA pitching at Hug High School, worthy of a spot on the Mendocino College squad in Ukiah, California, where he upped his fastball velocity to 94 mph.
However, the comforts of home called out to Kerr, who decided to take a sabbatical to join the workforce. For one year, Kerr took up jobs at the local IMAX theatre and 7-11 convenience store in Reno, citing homesickness as his reason to come back.
But, Kerr said, the love of the game pulled him back.
“I didn’t like living paycheck to paycheck,” Kerr said.
Since joining the Oilers, Kerr has developed into a dominant mound presence, a contender that despises any baserunner attempting to reach. He said each time a batter gets a base hit off him — he’s only given up eight in 20 innings of work this summer — he memorizes that pitch and puts it on his memory’s backburner for the next time he sees him.
“I feel like I haven’t pitched to my full potential yet,” Kerr said. “If I don’t pitch nine innings, I haven’t pitched to my best ability.”
Kerr said the bigger the spotlight, the better he plays, adding that if he were to be brought up to the majors now, he believes he could handle himself well. His first time against the reigning ABL champion Mat-Su Miners helped prove that theory.
In his Oilers debut June 10, Kerr heard before the game that the Miners featured some pretty hard hitters. He gave up just one run over six innings while striking out six guys.
Then, June 16 against the Anchorage Bucs, Kerr pitched a gem, holding the Bucs scoreless over seven innings while giving up a single base hit and a walk.
“I kind of had to shut them down,” Kerr said. “And that was when I was still getting my arm back in shape.”
Rising to the occasion is just one of Kerr’s major specialties.
“If this guy is a major league dude, or is a major league prospect, then I’m striking him out and making him look silly,” he said. “I just prove that I can hang with the big boys.
“I’ve just been waiting for that chance.”
When it comes to missed chances, Kerr has a long memory. When a batter gets a hit off him, Kerr makes sure to log it in his memory bank until the next time the batter is up.
“If I throw the same pitch in the same location, that’s his hitting zone,” he explained. “I’ll start off with a curveball, maybe with a cutter, then if you’re still fighting after that, you’ll be getting a fastball high, thinking it’ll drop for a curveball.”
Going back to the lesson he served up to his brother, Kerr said location is essential. Location always trumps speed.
“If you have 90 (mph) and location, you’re going to be pretty hard to hit,” he explained. “I look up to (Clayton) Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman, (Madison) Bumgarner. I study off them.”
With Kerr leading the way from the mound — and the outfield in games he doesn’t pitch — Dietz said the rest of the summer is looking bright for him and the team.