The mythical cup — named after Eddie Vedder, who spent some of his youth in San Diego and hit it big with Pearl Jam in Seattle — is bestowed to the team that each year wins the regular-season series. For once, both teams look like they’re going to be pretty good at the same time.
PEORIA, Ariz. – If you feel just a little bit of extra tension in the air, there’s good reason: The weirdest rivalry in sports is about to renew.
Obviously, I’m talking about the Padres and Mariners, bitter combatants for the past 18 years, ever since Bud Selig, in his infinite wisdom, determined that they would be deemed natural “geographic rivals” for scheduling purposes.
Never mind that they are linked by a spring-training facility, a background in the Pacific Coast League, a coastline, and not much else.
Well, they do have Eddie Vedder, who spent some of his youth in San Diego and hit it big with Pearl Jam in Seattle. Thus was created (in a stroke of genius by Padres blogger “Left Coast Bias”) the mythical “Vedder Cup,” bestowed to the team that each year wins the regular-season series.
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On Wednesday, the Padres and Mariners kick off the Cactus League season, as they do every year, with the annual Charity Game at the Peoria Sports Complex. That will be followed by another game between the teams Thursday, two more later in spring, and four in the regular season.
Forget about the Dodgers and Giants, Duke and North Carolina, the Seahawks and 49ers. This is what a fierce rivalry is all about. These teams just don’t like each other.
Oh, heck, who are we fooling? They have no animosity whatsoever. Brandon Maurer, traded from the Mariners to San Diego in the offseason, is rooming with current Mariner James Paxton this spring. Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, acquired in a winter trade with San Diego, still has plenty of buddies on the Padres. The only emotion you’ll find in large quantities is mutual respect.
There have been a lot of yucks dished out over the years about this far-fetched rivalry (though it must be said that neither team has ever tried to position it as such).
But something crazy is happening this year when it comes to the Vedder Cup: For once, both teams look like they’re going to be pretty good at the same time. Those two games in Seattle on May 12-13 and two in San Diego on June 30-July 1 might actually mean something to both teams, for a change.
Guess how many times the Padres and Mariners have both finished with a winning record in the 18 seasons they’ve been meeting in interleague games? That would be … once, in 2007, when the Mariners were 88-74 and the Padres were 89-74. Neither team made the postseason, though, San Diego losing a one-game playoff with Colorado for the wild-card berth.
The Mariners have been above .500 just twice since then, the Padres once. The Mariners haven’t been in the postseason since 2001, the Padres since 2006. Both teams have been particularly noted, of late, for their horrendous offenses and excruciating inability to score runs. The Padres were last in baseball in 2014 with 535 runs, some 99 fewer than Seattle — and we know how challenged the Mariners’ attack was.
But this year, both teams are bursting with buzz. The Padres, under ultra-aggressive new general manager A.J. Preller, have undergone one of the more amazing transformations in recent baseball history. They revamped their outfield by acquiring Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers in separate trades; signed one of the premier free agents on the market in pitcher James Shields; traded for All-Star catcher Derek Norris; and added various other useful pieces in Maurer, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson and Will Middlebrooks. They remain linked to Cole Hamels in trade rumors.
“Looking back on it, the volume of the changeover, it doesn’t happen. It’s rare,’’ Padres manager Bud Black said Tuesday. “When you’re in the mix of it, you don’t really find it surprising. But looking back on it, and looking at the team now from where it was, it’s pretty remarkable he could pull all that off in one offseason.”
Remarkably, Preller did it without having to break up his rotation core of Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross. Nor did he have to part with the Padres’ three top prospects. The payroll rose only minimally, from $90 million to about $100 million.
Kennedy said he spent the winter texting with Cashner and Ross, marveling over each new move.
“I was keeping up just like any fan was, looking every day, like, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ ‘’ he said. “It was pretty cool.”
Maurer found himself part of the churning wave of new talent when the Mariners dealt him to San Diego on Dec. 30. Now he’s feeding on the excitement of a team that expects to contend after going 77-85 last year, their fourth consecutive losing season.
“It’s pretty chill over here,’’ Maurer said. “I’m just getting to meet everyone, and it’s not like I’m the only one who needs to come in and meet a whole new team. It’s a whole new team meeting a whole new team. It makes it easier on me in that sense.
“Preller came in (as the new GM) and said, ‘We’re going to win this year. We’re going to switch this up.’ It’s crazy.”
The Mariners, of course, are harboring playoff dreams of their own, having finished just one game shy last year, and added Nelson Cruz to jump-start the American League’s worst offense. Manager Lloyd McClendon believes the players now have a profound understanding of the importance of every single game.
“We made comments last year that championships are not won in September; you win them in April and you prepare in February,’’ he said. “I think they understand to the utmost now what that phrase means.”
The Padres are primed. The Mariners are motivated. Get ready for a rip-roarin’ rivalry.`
Vedder late than never.