North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
After six years in the minors without a call-up, Merrifield seriously considered giving up baseball in 2015. He decided against it only after a conversation with his father who, according to a story told to The Kansas City Star, warned him that “when you take your cleats off, you can’t ever put them back on.”
Bill Merrifield was speaking from experience. A third baseman who played college ball at Wake Forest, he also spent six seasons in the minors. He was eventually added to the Pittsburgh Pirates in September 1987 but never got into a game.
Things turned out better for his son.
Whit finally got his chance on May 18, 2016, when he made his major league debut for the Kansas City Royals against the Boston Red Sox. He got his first career hit in that game, off Boston ace David Price.
The following season, batting in the leadoff spot, he led the American League with 34 stolen bases. The second baseman from Mocksville and Davie County High School had the most steals again in 2018 with 45 while also leading the league with 192 hits, establishing himself as one of the game’s top players. It’s a status reinforced this July when, at the age of 30, he became the oldest position player in Royals history to earn his first All-Star Game selection.
Merrifield had already earned his place in the record books before he was ever selected by Kansas City in the ninth round of the 2010 draft. Earlier that spring, his RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning produced the winning run that gave South Carolina the first of its two straight national championships. In three seasons with the Gamecocks, he hit .329 with 27 homers.