What they say about Mark Merila:
John Anderson, Merila's coach with the Gophers, and now coaching Mark's son Boston, asked what made Mark a record-breaking hitter:
"First of all, we made him into switch hitter. He was a hockey player and those guys, with the backhand, can have talent from both sides. We suggested it to Mark, and he wanted to try it from the left side.
"It didn't work for him at first … I think he started 0-for-20 something lefthanded. But he hung in there, and became an excellent hitter both ways.
"I think it was a small sample of the same way he's gone about his life with all the obstacles he's faced with his health. Mark is a person of great perseverance — one of those people who says, 'I'm going to figure this out and there will be better days head.'
"I coached Team USA in a seven-game series against Cuba in 1993. That Cuban team had some pitchers that were later in the big leagues. They beat us 4-3 in games. Mark was our second baseman and hit right around .450."
Ryan Lefebvre, now K.C. Royals broadcaster, Gophers teammate for three seasons, including a couple years batting second ahead of Merila's third in order:
"I was amazed by him from the start because he started the transition to switch hitter when he arrived in college. And even though he never had batted lefthanded, almost immediately he had the same outstanding knowledge of the strike zone as he did righthanded.
"He had great hands, but it all started with him almost never swinging at a ball out of the strike zone. It seemed like he walked twice a game, and he was always ahead in the count.
"Stump was, what?, 5-foot-8, and had this squatty body … the most unlikely tremendous athlete I've ever been around. He was the best player on our intramural hockey team by a mile. And he'd never played basketball, but if we were in a gym shooting baskets, he'd beat us all in H-O-R-S-E.''
Bruce Johnson, retired after a long career as the hockey coach at Armstrong High in New Hope, including for Merila, Class of 1990:
"Mark was a classic clutch athlete. Ice water in his veins … a sense for the dramatic, all those things. He had the same skills in hockey that he had in hitting a baseball. He saw the ice as well as he saw pitches.
"Notre Dame wanted him to play hockey. Boston College wanted him. He was a dynamic center.
"I had seven players, outstanding players, get a look at the NHL — and some much longer than a look — but I mean it when I say this:
"Mark Merila was the best high school hockey player I coached."
Merila himself, back in 1994, when asked why he chose baseball over hockey to pursue in college:
"I preferred hockey to baseball in high school, probably because you spend more time on it and hockey gets more attention. I had thoughts of being a pro athlete. I figured that with my size, 5-8 or 5-9, baseball was my best shot."