KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For Kansas City Royals All-Star do-it-all defender and MLB hits leader Whit Merrifield, the decision to play this season came quickly and decisively. But it wasn't without thoughtfulness or consideration of the seriousness of COVID-19.
At the end of a week that has seen notable major league players such as Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, Atlanta Braves pitcher Felix Hernandez and Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond opt out of playing this season and others including LA Angels star Mike Trout on the fence amid the coronavirus pandemic, Merrifield expressed hope that MLB's protocols would allow the truncated 60-game season to take place.
Merrifield also described why it was so important for him to report to Kansas City with his teammates this week as the club began spring training 2.0 and to be there for them for as long as this season lasts.
"I've seen what a lot of guys have said, and I respect how they feel," Merrifield said on Sunday. "I'm in a different situation than a lot of guys, and guys are in different situations than me. My feeling on the whole thing -- I'm saying this coming from a wife who has a compromised immune system -- there was never a hesitation from her or me about playing this year. She's been with me since high school. She understands what it takes to get to this level. She understands this level is a short window of time.
"She also understands that just like I've got an obligation to her to be the best husband I can be, to my siblings to be the best brother I can be and to my parents to be the best son I can be, I have an obligation to those guys in (the clubhouse) -- because those guys are my family as well -- to show up and perform. If I'm not there, I'm putting those guys in jeopardy this year. If they're not there, they're putting us in jeopardy as far as a team goes."
Merrifield, 31, didn't get his first taste of the majors until his seventh season of professional baseball (2016). Then he started the following season back in the minor leagues before he led the majors in steals and hits in 2018 and led the majors in hits again in 2019.
Last season, Merrifield played in all 162 games and earned a trip to his first MLB All-Star Game.
This season, he's expected to play the outfield on a more regular basis, but he's been counted on to play multiple positions throughout his tenure in the majors.
His ability to play multiple positions and remain a consistent offensive force at the top of the Royals' lineup creates options for how the club shapes its roster and how young players have been incorporated into the lineup. His move to the outfield last season paved the way for Nicky Lopez to play second base regularly.
Despite back-to-back 100-loss seasons, Merrifield has repeatedly expressed optimism about the team's ability to be competitive this year even prior to the season being shortened.