A heated divisional rivalry can fill ballpark seats.
Padres pitcher Mat Latos is learning it can sell baseballs, too.
Less than three weeks before Opening Day, San Diego's budding ace has teamed with a non-profit group to sell three autographed baseballs, all signed with the same message directed at the Padres' Bay Area rival: "I hate SF!"
The first of three baseballs sold Wednesday at 9:28 a.m. for $299.99 plus $8 shipping. Only one more baseball — penned “3 of 3” in blue ink — shows as available. It costs $499.99.
The autographs carry more substance than a simple shot at the defending World Series champion Giants, who edged the Padres last season in the National League West title race despite Latos’ strong season.
Half the proceeds will support the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, which promotes baseball, youth involvement, community events and other charitable causes.
Latos, 23, paced the Padres rotation in 2010, posting a win in the first 14 of his 19 decisions with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He struck out 189 batters in 182 2/3 innings pitched with just 50 walks.
Against the San Francisco Giants, Latos was 2-2 in six starts with a 2.37 and 0.92 ERA. He flirted with the franchise’s first perfect game at AT&T Park in May, allowing one hit and no walks in nine scoreless innings of a 1-0 win.