College World Series hero Whit Merrifield is on the road to making his major league baseball dreams come true.
Merrifield turned pro after his junior season at South Carolina after being drafted in the ninth round last year by the Kansas City Royals.
He is now an outfielder for the Royals' Class A affiliate in Wilmington, Del., hitting leadoff and batting .273 with four stolen bases through the Blue Rocks' first nine games this season.
While he will forever be remembered for delivering the extra-inning hit that gave USC its first national championship in baseball, Merrifield's attention is now focused on his pro baseball future.
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How are the minor leagues treating you?
It's going good. I'm enjoying it up here. It's been fun. It's definitely different than where I was at last year, in a good way. We've got a good team. I'm enjoying the people I'm around. I'm having fun.
How does it compare with your summer baseball experience with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees?
It's quite a step up. I'm glad to be at the next level up and hope to keep moving.
Is there any significance to your new jersey number 13?
No. I can't wear No. 5 because George Brett retired it throughout the whole organization. So 5 is a no-go for me. I wanted to get 25 - for 5 times 5 - but somebody had already taken that. I kind of like lower numbers, so 13 was the lowest one available. That's it. There's no significance to it. Hopefully it will do me well.
How special was it to start your season with three games in South Carolina (at Myrtle Beach) and three more in your home state of North Carolina (at Kinston)?
It was fun. My family got to watch for the first time since I had been in college. I get to go home and play in Winston-Salem next weekend. I'm really looking forward to that.
How was last Wednesday's day game at Kinston, N.C., in front of thousands of schoolchildren?
It was a different. Really loud. I heard the "Spongebob Squarepants" chant a lot. It was a different atmosphere whenever a ball was put in play. They would kind of freak out. It was fun though.
How are the living arrangements in Delaware?
Where I'm at now, we live with host families. I'm in a host family right now with three other guys. It's a cool setup.
Do your Blue Rock teammates ask you about the national championship experience?
They ask me and rag me about it whenever they get the chance to. It's always makes for a good conversation. We've got a lot of SEC guys and they always kind of get me a hard time about us winning it.
When we talked in September, you said you still watched your game-winning CWS hit once a night on YouTube. Do you still watch it that often?
No, it's not that much. But I'll catch myself some nights, when I'm kind of bored, I'll turn on YouTube. Once I get on it, I'm on it for an hour watching all kinds of different stuff about what we went through, all the highlights. But it's not once a night like it used to be.
You spent a few months in Columbia before spring training. What were you doing and how was the experience?
I was doing an internship with Gamecock Sports Properties and working out with the team, and teaching some lessons on the side to try and make a little extra money. It was fun. It really was.
How close are you to getting your degree?
I've got my senior level classes left and one more internship I have to do.
What do you think about this year's Gamecocks?
I got to watch them opening weekend and on the bus ride to Myrtle Beach when they were on ESPNU. They look very similar to how we were last year: solid pitching and scrappy hitting. They seem to win all the close games. Hopefully they can keep it up.
What was it like to be back at Carolina Stadium for Opening Day and the start of the season?
It was really cool. I was probably more nervous than I would have been if I was playing. I was anxious and excited. It was different to be sitting in the stands instead of on the field and in the dugout.
Did you get in a last batting practice at Carolina Stadium?
Yeah I would hit there quite a bit. I would go whenever I could get off from my internship. I would go when the team was working out and take batting practice with them.
Did you get to hit at all with the new bats?
No, I refused to. I had heard about it and when I saw them swinging with them I refused to hit with them. I don't like them at all. I was using wood bats. A couple guys asked me if I wanted to swing with them and I said I'd rather not.
How are the minor league bats so far?
Playing in summer leagues and college, we played with wood bats. You get used to the wood bat game. It took a couple weeks but I'm really used to the wood bats now.
About 10 months after being drafted, what are your impressions of the Kansas City Royals?
We've got a great organization, really deep. In fact we just got named the top organization in all of baseball by Baseball America this past offseason. It's pretty cool to be part of an organization like that. At the same time it makes it a little more difficult to move up. But when you're in this kind of position, all you do is worry about what you can control. So that's all I'm doing, going out there and playing every day and doing what I can do, and let the chips fall where they may.
Do you set out with a goal of advancing to Double A, Triple A, etc., at a specific point?
When I signed my goal was to move up a level a year. That hasn't changed. That's my goal, every year to put up enough numbers and play well enough to go up a level the next year. I didn't tell myself I wanted to play half a year and move up. That would be nice but I was trying to be a little more realistic. I knew the kind of organization we had and that would be pretty tough to do, barring someone getting hurt or something like that.
Did you buy anything cool or fun with your signing bonus?
Nope. I put almost all of it away. I'm just kind of living off some money I had before I signed and the money I'm making now. It's a good situation where I'm at because I'm living for free. So I get all the check we get I get to pocket. I'm saving it up. I've always been good at saving money. I can pocket this little money that we do get and hopefully use it for something later on.
What about the prospect of one day playing for the Royals' Triple A affiliate in Omaha?
That would be cool. You know when we won the Super Regionals and were going to Omaha, obviously I was excited. But as far as the city, I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't think there was going to be a whole lot around and much stuff to do. It's actually a very cool city, which makes it cool to go play there. I'm looking forward to hopefully playing there again.