Whit Merrifield sat in the visitors’ dugout at Kauffman Stadium and looked into the distance.
He was asked about his memories on this field — from his seven years with the Kansas City Royals before he was traded last July to the Toronto Blue Jays — and he slowly talked through what flashed through his mind.
His first hit. First home run. The walk-off wins. Even charity events like the Royals’ Diamond of Dreams.
“So many things that have gone on on this field for me in my professional career that,” Merrifield said Monday afternoon, pausing before shaking his head slightly, “ … it’s a lot.”
Merrifield looked down for a second to compose himself. It was the most emotional he became during an eight-minute interview with reporters ahead of KC’s four-game home series with Toronto this week.
This latest chapter of Merrifield and the Royals will feel different. Merrifield said he’d never been in the visiting clubhouse, which meant he “felt like a rookie” for much of Monday. Later, he met with former Royals teammates on the field pregame after arriving in KC for the first time with his new team.
It remains to be seen how last year’s departure will sit with Royals fans this week.
Merrifield, a two-time All-Star in his Royals career, fell out of favor with the front office in 2022 after he commented that he would only receive a COVID vaccination if he were playing for a contending team. Merrifield was one of 10 Royals who missed last year’s series in Toronto, as an entrance to Canada required proof of vaccination.
“I understand what Canada has in place right now. That’s the only reason that I would think about getting it at this point is to go to Canada,” Merrifield said in mid-July. “That might change down the road. Something happens, and I happen to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that changes.”
The Royals later traded Merrifield to the Blue Jays for pitcher Max Castillo and infielder Samad Taylor.
When asked Monday about his ending with the Royals, Merrifield initially declined to discuss it, saying, “We talked about it last year.”
He later addressed the situation, though, following a question about how he hoped KC fans would receive him this series when he gets his first at-bat.
“Whenever that comes, I hope people understand what this city, this team means to me,” Merrifield said. “What happened last year, I feel like I know what I said and I know what I meant. And the people that know me know what I meant. It’s a shame that it went wayward with people that weren’t there to hear it.”
Merrifield was not in the starting lineup for the Blue Jays on Monday. He has now started two of the team’s four games.
While standing in front of his locker on Monday, Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier described Merrifield as “one of my best friends” and admitted it would be “weird” to go against him this week.
He also, however, believed that Royals fans should show their appreciation when Merrifield stepped to the plate this week.
“He loved it here. I mean, what he did for Kansas City, for this organization, it speaks for itself,” Dozier said. “He’s one of the all-time greats in Royals history, in my opinion. So he definitely deserves to be welcomed and honored with everything he’s done.”
Merrifield said it took a while following last year’s trade to fully integrate into the Blue Jays. Because he arrived midseason, there were clubhouse inside jokes and earlier-in-the-season memories that he didn’t understand or experience.
This spring training, though, he said he’s begun to settle in with his new team.
“It’s just a new energy coming to the field every day when you know that you’re in position and it’s expected to win every day,” Merrifield said, “and that’s the main focus is to win.”
With some time for reflection, Merrifield also spoke Monday about what the Royals meant to him.
Even now, he described the organization as “family,” pointing out that much of the front office besides former general manager Dayton Moore had remained intact since the start of his minor-league days with the Royals.
“For 12 years, we shared a lot— a lot of good times, a lot of bad times. But family goes through that,” Merrifield said. “I have nothing but love for everybody in this organization.
“It’s a special place in my heart for those people, and I think they know that.”