Whit Merrifield calls his first Opening Day with the Royals 'pretty awesome'
Whit Merrifield didn’t need his alarm clock Thursday.
“I woke up about 6 and wasn’t able to get back to sleep,” Merrifield said. “I was tossing and turning the rest of the morning. My first thought when I woke up was what time can I leave to get to the field and not be overly early? I piddled around a little bit at the apartment and got here around 8:30 ready to go.”
There were a couple of younger teammates in the clubhouse when Merrifield arrived, so it wasn't too early for Thursday's game against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Here's the thing: Merrifield won’t be as restless for the next 161 Royals games. But Thursday was special, because but this will be his first Opening Day in the major leagues.
A year ago, Merrifield led the American League with 34 stolen bases and swatted 19 home runs in 145 games. In 2016, he played 81 games in his rookie season and has appeared in in 226 career big-league games.
But Merrifield hasn’t heard stood on the first-base line on Opening Day and heard his name called.
“I’m looking forward to the festivities and everything that comes with Opening Day,” Merrifield said.
Thursday is literally a dream come true for Merrifield, who lost the second-base battle to Adalberto Mondesi last spring and started the season at Class AAA Omaha.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s something that, since I was a kid, I wanted to be on an Opening Day roster. There are only 30 guys that have this job, and I’m grateful that I’m one of them. It’s an exciting day for me and not one that I will take lightly.”
Merrifield, 29, hit .288 last year with 32 doubles to go along with his impressive home run and stolen base numbers.
He spent the offseason with one goal in mind: improving in all areas.
“It’s not maintaining, it’s putting the focus on getting better at everything,” Merrifield said. “I put a lot of focus on getting strong, a lot of focus on getting faster. I did a lot of mental work and film work on my approach and ways that I can get better and ways that I can get in the zone a little bit more.
“If a hitter goes to the plate looking to walk, they’re in trouble. I can’t go the plate looking to walk, but I can go to the plate looking to swing at balls in the zone more. That’s been a big focus of mine this offseason.”
Merrifield was in a zone this spring, batting .471 with four homers, four triples and four doubles. It removed any doubt that he would be the Royals’ starting second baseman when camp ended.
Asked for a favorite Opening Day memory, Merrifield said didn’t think long.
“Waking up this morning is probably the favorite memory of an opening day that I’ve had,” Merrifield said. “We got to open a new stadium in college my sophomore year which was pretty cool, but I don’t think it’ll compare to today.”
Yeah, he’s excited.