Hit off Paddack earns Gophers senior Merila bragging rights

February 24th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Merila trudged into the hallway underneath the concourse at Hammond Stadium, his bag around his neck and cleats still on his feet -- and he was still bracing himself to check his phone once he got back to his locker.

“Probably going to be some crazy texts saying what a cool experience to get to face a guy like that,” Merila said. “Pretty excited. Obviously, I haven't seen it yet, so we'll see what it's like, but it was just such a cool moment. Definitely talk about that one in the future when I'm with some of my buddies.

“That might be something that comes up at Thanksgivings. Bragging rights.”

University of Minnesota

Merila, the University of Minnesota senior from St. Michael, had faced off against The Sheriff -- Chris Paddack -- and emerged as the only Golden Gophers hitter to collect a knock against the five-year big leaguer. That’s certainly worth some bragging rights.

Merila is the son of Mark Merila, the former Gophers legend who serves as a Minnesota-based scout for the Padres after having previously worked as a bullpen catcher for the organization. The family is from San Diego, but Boston went to high school at St. Michael-Albertville and stuck around the Twin Cities to play for the Golden Gophers.

He said the team plane was buzzing when they learned they’d be facing Paddack, and many of the players -- most of whom hail from the Upper Midwest -- were even tossing around notions of perhaps facing Jhoan Duran in the later innings.

(Duran threw live on the back fields against Twins’ big leaguers instead earlier in the afternoon and did not subject the teenagers to his triple-digit stuff and wipeout “splinker.”)

Batting second, Merila fell behind Paddack in a 1-2 count and braced for Paddack trying to blow by him with a big league fastball -- the right-hander was sitting 93-95 mph with the pitch in his spring debut -- and he got the bat to the ball, shooting it to left field for a solid single.

“I mean, I was keeping the fastball in the back of my mind,” Merila said. “I hadn't seen it yet and I had just seen changeups. So I was hoping I could be on time with the fastball if it came, and sure enough, it did. I was just happy to get some lumber on it and put it the other way. It was pretty cool.”

With nothing to lose, Merila said the Gophers’ hitters were thrilled for the challenge -- and they obviously knew what Paddack had, since he’s a big leaguer who they’ve seen on television plenty of times. It still felt different actually stepping into the batter’s box and seeing him on the mound -- but when Merila got his pitch to hit, he was still ready.

“It just felt kind of like a dream,” Merila said. “You just dream of moments where you can share the field with some guys like that. It was super cool. I think we all had a good time facing all these guys and sharing the field with them, trying to soak it in. That was the main thing.”

Twins honor Anderson’s final season
This marked a particularly significant season for the Twins to be hosting the team from the University of Minnesota, as it notably marks legendary coach John Anderson’s final year at the helm of the Golden Gophers’ baseball program.

In recognition of Anderson’s 43 seasons as head coach and his upcoming retirement, the Twins made a $20,000 donation to the University of Minnesota, presented by two of the most noteworthy players to pass through that program: Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and All-Star closer Glen Perkins.

Under Anderson, the Gophers won 11 regular-season Big Ten titles and 10 Big Ten Tournament titles. He will retire as the winningest coach in the history of the conference.

“A couple other numbers you should know: 95 percent graduation rate, and John has had 335 of his athletes win Big Ten academic honors,” Molitor said. “That's where he gets a lot of the credit. John's philosophy in coaching was that he's preparing kids for the next 50 years of their lives. We are honored to have had John Anderson as the head coach of the University of Minnesota's baseball team.”