For 20 years, the Appalachian League ballclubs from Princeton and Bluefield have battled not only for a league title but for possession of the Mercer Cup, signifying dominance in their own local rivalry.
The 21st year of the Mercer Cup Series begins this evening at Bowen Field with the Bluefield Blue Jays hosting the Princeton Rays.
“It probably means more to the people than a league championship,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said late last week.
It’s the latest opening salvo of the series in recent memory. Ten more games will follow in a 24-day period, with the final games scheduled for Aug. 7-9 in Princeton.
Bluefield’s clubhouse is the current home of the giant trophy after the Blue Jays, in their first year in Bluefield, beat the Rays in seven of 11 games last season. Princeton had won the trophy the previous two years.
Overall, the Bluefield ballclub has won the series in 11 years and Princeton’s teams have won eight times. There was one tie, in 1994, and Bluefield retained the trophy.
Holmberg said, “The players know what it means. We came to find out last year how important it is to the community. ... We’ve got the trophy right there in the clubhouse. We don’t want to give it back.”
Blue Jays outfielder Eric Arce said the Mercer Cup competition is “a big deal” to the players. “That’s a series we want to win. We’re going to come out and play every inning, every pitch.”
Princeton manager Michael Johns said about his players, “They understand. It is important to everyone around here, it is important to us.
“More importantly, it is important to the Appalachian League and the playoffs, we play this team 11 times and they are in our division.”
“I know they have a lot of talent so it is going to be a fun matchup. ... I have heard about them, I haven’t seen them play, but we will see tomorrow. We are excited.”
Johns is 1-1in the Mercer Cup Series in his two years in charge at Princeton.
“It is lot more fun winning it, I can tell you that,” he said. “I think two years ago we won it early, I think we won it in the eighth game and last year I think they may have won it in the ninth game so we are looking forward to getting that first one. That is always the most important, so we are excited.”
Daily Telegraph sports editor Brian Woodson contributed to this story.