We could hear the cracks of the bats before we even hit the ticket booth. It was a postcard of a day in South Florida- sun high, sky azure, temp perfect, New Yorkers jostling us (I would soon learn it wasn't the crack of the bat I had heard but instead the leg and hip bones of a couple of retirees from the Bronx who had instinctively attempted to leap over the turnstiles).
This was what Spring Training games were supposed to be, and even though the cozy old ballpark and all its memories that had stood nearby had been bulldozed in favor of what was now a revenue-generating shopping mall with a baseball field attached, the developers hadn't managed to squelch that indescribable feeling to be had when sneaking out of the office early on a weekday afternoon. At least not yet, anyway.
I had been joined by a long-time credit union CEO whom I'd gotten to know over the years and whose credit union had considered buying the naming rights to the very stadium in whose ticket line we were now waiting. His credit union had lost its bid, and it wasn't hard to see to whom, as the ticket booth was directly beneath a giant sign for "YouWillSubmitToUs National Bank," and its logo, a stylized rendition of a serf toiling in a field. We glanced at each other as we scanned the seat options and ticket prices: there were seats available that were affordable-unfortunately they weren't inside the stadium. Reassuring each other that what the heck, it's a beautiful day and spring training only comes once a year, we dug deep in our wallets and bought mezzanine seats along the third base line. (For those wanting box seats along the baselines, YouWillSubmitToUs N.B. had loan applications available.)
We weren't going to let the ticket prices get us down, even though my CEO friend felt nervous he didn't have board approval. Nope, we were here to see a match-up of two long-time, bitter rivals-the Bankers vs. the Credit Unionists. By the time we fought our way through the thicket of peddlers selling everything from cell phones to insurance and had found our seats, it was nearing time for the opening pitch. The Credit Unionists had already taken the field in their home whites, laughing, interacting with fans, tossing the ball around. It wasn't hard to spot the Bankers in their black uni's and polished wingtip cleats; from our seats we could see into their plush dugout where a row of middle-aged, dour-looking white men were lined up, each on a cell phone and shooing away any kid who wouldn't pay the $15 NSF (Non-Sufficient Fan) fee for an autograph. The Bankers were preparing to bat-they always go on the offense first.
The game was delayed when the Bankers' manager, the sixth one in two years, charged out of the dugout and began arguing with the umpires. It didn't take us long to find out what was going on: a couple of snowbirds in front of us, roasted pinker than a three-day-old ballpark frank, had a radio. "Apparently, the Bankers' manager is once again arguing that the playing field isn't level," the play-by-play man informed us. The umpire sent the dissatisfied manager back to his dugout as fans booed him.
The credit union CEO and I had both skipped lunch; what's a day at the ballgame without a beer and a brat? I spotted a vendor, but before I could wave him over I heard him calling out, "Git yer credit cards heah. Nice hot credit cards!" The guy was peddling card apps from YouWillSubmitToUs Bank, and because the card's 21% APR took the shirt off most cardholders' backs, was throwing in a T-shirt if you signed up today.
"Oh, will you look at that," spat the CEO. The Credit Unionists' rightfielder was dividing her time between trying to get the wave started and rearranging the signage along the outfield wall. "Who's that?" I asked.
"Who else would be out in right field but somebody from marketing?" harumphed the CEO. "It looks like only about 5% of the crowd is responding-she'll be ecstatic with that response rate."
When the game finally started the Bankers began hitting the Credit Unionists hard. "Just stay in position," the CEO muttered under his breath. "That's what they want; get us away from what's always worked for us." Every time the Credit Unionists moved their defense, the Bankers began hitting the ball somewhere else, scoring one run on an error when an outfielder named State and another named Federal each thought the other would catch an easy fly. By the time the Credit Unionists' D began working cooperatively, the Bankers were up by three.
As the CU 9 were coming to bat the old-time CEO was looking nervous: "Offense isn't the strongest part of our game," he lamented, nearly as loudly as he had the $6 bag of peanuts. But the Credit Unionists never got to bat-the Bankers' pitcher wouldn't throw the ball. "We own it," he informed the umpire firmly, before adding, "In fact, we own the equipment and this stadium and even the fans."
"You don't own us," said one of the other umpires. "Not yet," smirked the Banker pitcher, whom I would learn later had been fast-tracked for senior management by YouWillSubmitToUs Bank.
The game was called before the Credit Unionists even had the chance to take their swings. "This happens every year," said the disgusted CEO as he stood and shook awake the two roasted snowbirds in front of us. "The Bankers score some runs and then quit before we can respond."
"At least it was a nice day," I said, trying to cheer him up.
The CEO grumbled again and nodded toward the scoreboard. There a message read, "This nice day just acquired by YouWillSubmitToUs Bank."
And in small print at the bottom of the scoreboard: "Note: Next year's game may be moved to a different state or states."
Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal.