Merrifield enjoys hostile environment at CU

Hecklers. Jeers. Booing. Trash talk. South Carolina centerfielder Whit Merrifield says bring it on, Clemson fans.

Last spring, the Advance, NC native was a freshman learning the ropes of the Carolina-Clemson baseball rivalry. After hitting a triple in his first game against the Tigers in Columbia, Merrifield was welcomed into the road version of the rivalry by a hostile Tiger crowd the following day at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

The experience is one the sophomore says he has been eagerly awaiting another opportunity for ever since.

"This is something I look forward to going into the year, especially being out in the outfield," Merrifield said. "They have a bunch of students behind the fences, and they rag on you a little bit. The place is filled and it's rowdy and it's a ton of fun."

Merrifield says those students did everything they could to rattle the young outfielders confidence, and it wasn't just calling out his name and numbers. The Clemson faithful had done their research into his personal life and came armed with a slew of facts they were ready to point out at a moment's notice.

While some might have felt threatened or angry, Merrifield says it's all in good fun, especially in the kind of atmosphere a Carolina-Clemson game brings.

"Last year they knew everything about me. Who my family was, they knew who my girlfriend was, they knew that I was a theater minor," Merrifield said. "They just let me have it about everything they could think of, and I thought it was blast. I thought it was really funny. They thought it was funny that I would talk back to them too. It was really fun."

Though the pokes and jabs are almost guaranteed to fly when the Gamecocks take the field for Game 1 of 4 against No. 19 Clemson on Saturday, all the players are aware of what's at stake. The Tigers (4-0) are the first of a stretch of weekend series for USC that feature some of the nation's top talent. The Gamecock (3-0) will host west coast power Long Beach State next weekend before diving into SEC play against the top two teams in the Western Division in Mississippi State and LSU.

With that daunting of a schedule ahead of them, Merrifield recognizes the importance of a strong showing this weekend.

"We're going into this weekend saying we need to win both games. We won't be happy with a split. I know the fans won't be happy with a split. We need to go do what we need to do and win both of the games," Merrifield said. "It's going to be good to play a team that's a little better (than Duquesne). These young guys are going to experience what a real hostile atmosphere feels like. I think it's going to be good for us."

One of those young guys Merrifield is looking to make sure is ready for the tough atmosphere is freshman outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Though the Virginia native is off to a strong start at the plate with a .333 average and a home run already, Merrifield knows he has never seen anything like this before.

"I've been talking to Jackie a little bit. He's going to be in the outfield, and I've been telling him things to do, things not to do, what to do about the fans and how to go about the game," Merrifield said. "I think he's going to be fine. He's a pretty poised freshman."

Though composure will be a priority for the Gamecock outfielders, Merrifield recognizes that winning is important but having fun while doing it is what makes it enjoyable. So don't expect him or his counterparts to go entirely stone faced to the Clemson cheering section.

"You've got to have fun with them. They're pretty good about not getting too bad out there. And as long as they're having fun out there, I'm going to have fun back with them. It makes the game more enjoyed for them and for me too," Merrifield said. "We're looking forward to it. That's why everyone wanted to come here. Everyone wants to play against the best, and we're going to have a chance to prove that we belong these next couple of weekends."

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