The tightest rivalry in America’s favorite pastime


Just 12 miles separate the 2 minor league teams with the “closest rivalry in baseball.”

The Princeton Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays keep summer sizzling with heated competition for the Mercer Cup!

Roots of the rivalry

Princeton and Bluefield’s friendly rivalry started a long time ago— well before the teams even existed.

In fact, you can trace Appalachian baseball to coal. During the early 20th century, mining camps would play against each other. Company owners wooed noteworthy players with perks: better schedules and even shorter hours.

Official leagues formed during the 1930s. Coal towns depended on games for entertainment, and followed each showdown with intense interest. Underdog romance made things even more exciting. Players like Harry Perkowski and Bob Bowman started from the coalfields and went all the way to the major leagues.

That small-town pride still colors the Appalachian League today. Fans get engrossed in the game, and teams like to fuel off the frenzy, all good fun.

So, what happens when only 12 miles separates 2 “Appy” League teams? An unusually intense rivalry.

Princeton vs. Bluefield: the Mercer Cup

The Princeton Rays are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, and practice at H.P. Hunnicutt Field and engage fans with silly activities during breaks. It’s not unusual to watch kids race in gigantic underwear, for example.

The Bluefield Blue Jays, affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays, call Bowen Field home. Right outside the stadium are quirky ornaments: a tank, locomotive and giant inflatable jersey.

Both the Rays and Jays have a playful character, but the rivalry reigns supreme. A single win is great, but at the end of the season only one thing matters: the Mercer Cup showdown.

Location aside, Bluefield and Princeton’s rivalry has everything to do with this trophy. Since 1992, the Mercer Cup goes to whichever team wins more of their 11 head-to-head matchups of the season.

The Mercer Cup generates enthusiasm and good-natured sportsmanship. Whenever one team clinches the trophy, it parades the prize through town. Local businesses keep the cup for several days, so folks can admire it and even toss their business cards into the top for a chance to win season tickets.

Which rival team are you rooting for this season?

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This post was last updated on July 27, 2020