WILLMAR — Grant Kerry’s passion for baseball has spanned multiple continents.

Born in Hong Kong to British parents, Kerry was raised in Kuwait. After turning 16, he left home and attended boarding school in Perth, Australia. Eventually, Kerry’s baseball journey led him to college in the United States.

College baseball has been a journey all on its own, first at Boise State, then to Division II Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

“Baseball has taken me all over the place,” Kerry said. “I’ve been fortunate to play in Australia, the Middle East and Europe. I even played a few games in England and Canada and now, America.”

And this summer, Kerry’s latest stop is with the Willmar Stingers, where he has excelled in short order. Since joining the team on June 19, Kerry is hitting for a .356 average with a home run and four doubles. He has driven in 13 runs and scored seven in 12 games.

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“We had a good season at NNU and I’m trying to continue doing what I’m doing there to help this team win,” Kerry said. “Whether that’s playing right field, left field, third base, DH-ing or doing charts in the dugout, I’m just trying to be a good teammate and help the team win.”

The 21-year-old is used to having to make new friends in the dugout. But, it doesn’t take long for plenty of questions to be thrown Kerry’s way.

“You go up to new guys and ask where they’re from,” Kerry said. “They ask the same thing and (I) say from England. It starts a whole conversation and the next thing you know, you know all the guys because they’re all curious about how an English baseball player is in Willmar, Minnesota.”

Arriving in Idaho

Kerry wasn’t sure if baseball was going to be in his future after boarding school. But a teammate of his, Max Wheeler, put the idea of college baseball into Kerry’s brain.

“He asked if I was interested in playing college baseball and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess,’” Kerry said. “It wasn’t really on my mind and I kind of liked the idea of staying in Australia.”

Turns out, Wheeler’s boss at work had a connection with Gary Van Tol, who was brought on by Boise State to become head coach and revive the baseball program after it shut down in 1980. Kerry was already in the United States, taking a visit at Lindenwood University in Missouri when he heard from Van Tol.

“He told me, ‘Hey, when you go on that visit to Missouri, swing by Boise and take a visit to Boise State, too,” Kerry said.

After 40 years, the Boise State baseball program came back in 2020. In 10 games (eight starts), Kerry hit .192 with five hits and four RBIs. The Broncos started with a 9-5 record.

But after 14 games, the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in July 2020, the baseball program was dropped due to budget cuts.

When the season stopped, Kerry took the time to work on some things both on and off the field. He was excited for the 2021 season. Only, that never came.

“It was a sinking feeling. It sucked,” Kerry said. “The next few days and weeks were rough.”

He was getting inquiries from schools around the country via the NCAA transfer portal but, Kerry said, “I didn’t open a single one.”

Kerry moved across the world to be in Boise. He wasn’t looking to leave. About 21 miles away from the Boise State campus was Northwest Nazarene.

So, Kerry could finish up school at Boise State, or continue playing baseball at NNU.

“How I ended up at NNU was crazy,” Kerry said. “I just try to enjoy it and I re-found my love of baseball at NNU. I’m really glad that’s where I went.”

Willmar first baseman Grant Kerry talks to players on the Minnesota Mud Puppies bench between innings of a Northwoods League game on Thursday, July 8, 2021 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar first baseman Grant Kerry talks to players on the Minnesota Mud Puppies bench between innings of a Northwoods League game on Thursday, July 8, 2021 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

A milestone year

Kerry’s hopes weren’t very high when he first got to practice at NNU.

“I remember showing up the first day and thinking we’re going to suck this year,” he said. The Nighthawks were 24-24 in 2019 and had a 9-7 record in 2020 before the season was called off.

Day by day, Kerry was getting won over.

“With each week that passed,” Kerry said, “I thought, ‘These guys can play,’”

In 2021, NNU had its best season in Division II, going 35-10 and reaching the DII World Series. The Nighthawks won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and West Regional championships. They finished sixth in the final DII poll.

“I think it did a lot for the community,” Kerry said. “Idaho doesn’t have a baseball team. There’s no DI baseball anymore, the minor league team (the Idaho Falls Chukars) got cut. There’s really only two teams in Idaho: a DII team and an NAIA team (Lewis-Clark State). For the D-II team to step up and make a run at the World Series and have a really successful year, it speaks volumes to the people in the Pacific Northwest because it shows there’s another program you can go to and play at a really competitive level.

For his part, Kerry was named GNAC Newcomer of the Year and was a D-II honorable mention All-American. He batted .361 with a .621 slugging percentage with 11 home runs and 11 doubles, 52 RBIs and 34 runs.

“Being a part of that was something special,” Kerry said. “Just as special as being a part of that Boise State program that was going to bring baseball back to the Treasure Valley.”

Second-half surge

After an opportunity to play summer ball in the Appalachian League fell through, Kerry found a spot in the Northwoods League with the Willmar Stingers. With NNU’s deep postseason run, Kerry thought he’d have a break before joining the team in July.

Ten days after the college season ended, Kerry was making his first appearance in black and yellow.

“My coach said to take a few weeks off and be ready for July,” Kerry said. “Three days after we got back, Ryan (Voz) called and said, ‘Hey, let’s get you here Wednesday. Can’t wait to have you.’”

After a laugh, Kerry added, “I’m like, OK, that’s pretty soon.”

Making sporadic appearances in the lineup in late June, Kerry has been a regular in the middle of the lineup since the calendar flipped to July.

“I took a couple games to see the ball again, but now I feel like I’m where I want to be,” Kerry said. “It’s fun to be with this group of guys and compete every day.”

His biggest game with the Stingers will have nothing to do with his on-the-field exploits. Next week, Kerry’s mom, Samantha, is arriving from Kuwait to see him play. Then she’ll head to Idaho to meet Grant’s girlfriend in person for the first time and help get the couple settled in their new place.

“I haven’t seen my parents in a year-and-a-half,” Grant said. “I’m fired up to see her. I’m a big Momma’s boy and I know she’s excited to see me.”

He added, “It’s been tough for them. They love seeing me play and games are on for them at 4 a.m. A lot of knowledge comes from box scores or from me. … I’ve been away from home for seven years now and my sister’s been gone (at boarding school in England) since she was 13 or 14.”

Wherever life has taken him, Grant always has baseball to break the ice.

“The game’s a bit of a universal language,” he said. “You form a friendship, a brotherhood with your teammates that makes it easier to be away from home.”