KANSAS CITY — The Royals know Madison Bumgarner all too well at this point, and there will be a familiar lineup on the other side when the lefty digs back in at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night. Longtime anchors Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez will make up the top of the order against Bumgarner, but the new No. 6 hitter is actually the Royal who has been facing him the longest.
A day after getting called up from Triple-A, Whit Merrifield will take a crack at a player he has known for nearly two decades. Merrifield grew up in Mocksville, North Carolina, about 75 minutes away from Bumgarner's hometown. The two played against each other and played together on high school All-Star teams, but their first meeting wasn’t a positive one for Merrifield.
“So, my first memory of Bum was we were 11 years old and it was my first ever travel ball game and he was pitching for the Catawba Valley Storm, we were playing against them,” Merrifield said Wednesday. “He was this big-old-donkey lefty on the mound. I was leading off that game and my first at-bat he drills me in the head.
“He goes on later that game to hit two home runs, and ever since then he was kind of a legend around those parts.”
Told that story by local reporters on Tuesday, Bumgarner smiled and grimaced.
"I did?" he said. "Geez, I don't remember that. I'm sure it was an accident."
Merrifield wasn’t bitter. He said the two got to know each other in high school.
“He’s a great guy,” Merrifield said. “It’s good to see him have success. Like I said, he was kind of a legend in North Carolina.”
Merrifield, 28, is hoping to carve out his own role in the Majors. He has come a long way since that first meeting, which was his first ever game playing outside of his county. He went to South Carolina and became a ninth-round pick of the Royals. Merrifield has played all over the field in eight minor league seasons, posting a .274/.334/.403 slash line. He batted .283 in 81 games for the Royals last year and hit a solo homer Tuesday in his return to the big leagues.
Merrifield and Bumgarner ran into each other in the parking lot after the series opener. The Royal is looking forward to facing a pitcher who was making hitters uncomfortable long before the Giants discovered him.
“When you get a chance to go up against one of the elite guys, it’s going to be a fun night,” he said. “He comes right after you. I like to be aggressive. He’s an aggressive pitcher and I’m an aggressive hitter. Something has got to give, and hopefully my aggression will prevail over his.”