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Gamecocks in the pros

With one swing of the bat, Whit Merrifield became a South Carolina legend. He was always one of the most popular players ever to put on a Gamecock uniform but when he lined the national championship-winning single in 2010, he became a hero.

But a month later, he had to start over. A professional career began and he couldn’t live off a trophy-winning hit any longer. He was now hitting for a paycheck. Good news is, he’s been hitting this season.

Merrifield, drafted in the ninth round by the Kansas City Royals last June, is off to a great start for the Wilmington (Delaware) Blue Rocks. For those who follow him on Twitter (@whitmerrifield), you know he has a little bit of trouble spelling his new home state. Third grade geography aside, Merrifield is enjoying life in the northeast.

“It’s nice. It’s a little chilly,” Merrifield said, after a 7-6 win in Winston-Salem last Thursday. “We’re real close to Philly, so there’s always something to do. Good stadium, great fans, and we’re 9-4, so we’re a good team.”

The Blue Rocks have gone 3-3 since the opening-game win over Winston-Salem, a team that is just 20 miles up the road from where Merrifield grew up in Advance, N.C. Over the four-game weekend, Merrifield had hundreds of friends and family make the journey to see him play. The left field berm behind where Merrifield was playing was full of supporters and a few Dash fans ribbing him a bit.

So far this season, Merrifield is hitting .313 in 18 games for the Blue Rocks. Most of his starts have come in left field but he’s supposed to see time at second base some as well. He has four doubles and five stolen bases.

Around his everyday minor league schedule, Merrifield finds the time to check in on the goings on in Columbia with his former teammates whether it’s by telephone or through social media.

“I talk to a lot of the guys pretty frequently,” Merrifield said. “I follow everyone on Twitter and keep up with everyone as much as I can. I was watching the other day when they were on ESPN. I keep up with them a good bit and it sounds like they’re doing awesome. I’m proud of them.”

His former mates are sitting tied atop the Southeastern Conference standings with a 32-8 record and 14-4 mark in the conference. Merrifield recounted playing in front of 8,000 fans at Carolina Stadium as well as fun travels for big games around the SEC when asked what he missed most about being in college.

“Probably the atmosphere that we had every day in the SEC,” Merrifield said. “It was really intense. That’s the kind of player I am. I’m a pretty intense player and I thrived off of that. I miss that, I miss all the guys back at school. I don’t miss the classes but I miss Columbia a lot. I love that city and it’s been an adjustment.”

While Merrifield misses Columbia, Columbia certainly misses him. There’s also a coaching staff in the dugout at Carolina Stadium that would surely love to have him as an outfield option right now. But the current Royal has started the season well as he looks for legend stats in professional baseball.

Nine innings with Whit Merrifield from

Major Leagues

SS Adam Everett, Indians

In 10 games played this season, Everett has 16 at-bats with six hits for a .375 average. He’s being used primarily as a backup infielder and late-inning defensive replacement. All of his hits have been singles and he has three walks and three strikeouts.

Util. Steve Pearce, Pirates

Pearce has played in 15 games so far this season and is hitting .292 with a double and two runs batted in. He was 2-for-3 on Wednesday against San Francisco getting the start at first base and hitting in the five-hole of the order.

C Landon Powell, Athletics

In just six games this year, Powell is hitting .263 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. He started Wednesday’s game and was 0-for-3 with a walk, strikeout, and run scored.

2B Brian Roberts, Orioles

In his eleventh year in the big leagues with Baltimore, Roberts is off to a bit of a slow start. He is hitting .261 this season but does have three home runs and four doubles. Roberts is a .283 career hitter.

1B Justin Smoak, Mariners

Smoak has returned strong after spending time on the bereavement list due to the death of his father. In his two games since his return, Smoak is 3-for-8 with seven RBIs and a pair of home runs. This season, he’s hitting .302 with four bombs and five doubles through 19 games.

Minor Leagues

RHP Billy Buckner, AAA Colorado Springs (Rockies)

In four starts this season, Buckner is yet to register a decision. He posted a 5.21 earned run average striking out 16 and walking nine in 19 innings pitched.

RHP Mike Cisco, AA Reading (Phillies)

Cisco is off to a great start this year earning a decision in all four appearances. He has posted a 3-0 record with one save allowing four earned runs in 15.1 innings pitched. In his most recent outing on April 22, he threw 4.2 innings and allowed one earned run on one hit, a home run, in picking up the win.

RHP Blake Cooper, A South Bend (Diamondbacks)

Cooper is 0-1 so far this season in four relief appearances with a 5.06 earned run average. He is yet to make a start for the club but does have one save in 5.1 innings on the mound. In his most recent outing on April 23, he pitched a shutout inning with a strikeout and picked up the save.

C Justin Dalles, A Delmarva (Orioles)

Dalles had a problem with concussions last season but has put up good numbers in eight games so far this year. He is hitting .306 with a double, home run, and seven RBIs. In two recent games in Augusta, he was 3-for-9 with a double and two RBIs.

3B James Darnell, AA San Antonio (Padres)

Darnell is off to a great start hitting .433 in his first 18 games for San Antonio with 10 doubles. Power numbers are up as well hitting four home runs and 10 doubles with a .761 slugging percentage so far.

RHP Sam Dyson, (Blue Jays)[/link]

Underwent Tommy John surgery in November and will miss the entire 2011 season.

SS Bobby Haney, A Augusta (Giants)

Haney has not played in a game this season but is on the active roster. He hit .239 last season in 20 games.

Util Reese Havens, AA Binghamton (Mets)

Currently on the seven-day disabled list. He had offseason surgery to remove part of his rib, which caused him to miss part of the 2010 season.

RHP Jeff Jeffords, AA Carolina (Reds)

Has pitched in seven games this season a total of 8.2 innings. He has allowed nine earned runs and opponents are hitting .395 against him. In three of his appearances, he’s allowed a total of eight runs. He has four quality appearances thus far and does not have a record.

OF DeAngelo Mack, A-Advanced Tampa (Yankees)

In 14 games so far this season, he’s hitting .229 with two doubles and two runs batted in. He has a pair of three-hit games so far this season.

2B Kevin Melillo, AAA Salt Lake (Angels)

Melillo is currently on the seven-day disabled list. He last played in a game on April 21 going 2-for-2 with a double and run scored.

OF Whit Merrifield, A-Advanced Wilmington (Royals)

In 18 games this season, Merrifield is hitting .313 with four doubles and seven RBIs. On April 25, he was 3-for-5. He also has five stolen bases this season in six attempts.

RHP Wynn Pelzer, AA Bowie (Orioles)

In five games this season, three of which were starts, Pelzer has a 1-1 record and 0.95 earned run average. He has 17 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched and has given up nine hits. In his most recent start on April 26, he picked up the loss but allowed only one run in five innings pitched.

2B Steven Tolleson, AAA Sacramento (Athletics)

In 19 games this season, Tolleson is hitting .265 with an on-base percentage of .390. Tolleson had a recent six-game hitting streak come to an end on April 24 and is now 0-for-7 in the last two games.

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