As an avid baseball fan growing up in Northern California, Russell A. Colombo daydreamed of someday donning a San Francisco Giants uniform and taking the field for the storied home team.
This summer, the president and CEO of Novato, Calif.-based Bank of Marin Bancorp got his wish.
For the Giants' Aug. 7 home game at AT&T Park against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers-Italian-American Heritage Night, as luck would have itColombo served as one of two "Ball Dudes," patrolling foul territory along the left field line for out-of-play grounders to retrieve and toss to eager children in the nearby stands.
No, Colombo didn't swing the bat. And sadly, only two foul balls were hit his way. Nevertheless, the 61-year-old executive, who currently oversees 17 branches and more than $1.4 billion in assets, says the experience was something he'll remember forever.
"I've been a Giants fan my whole life and I finally got to go on the field," he says. "I would have much rather done it at age 30, but it would have been a treat at any age."
Colombo certainly is no stranger to the spotlight; in July, Bank of Marin announced plans to acquire the four-branch NorCal Community Bancorp in nearby Alameda, a purchase that would expand Bank of Marin's reach in the Bay Area and increase its assets to $1.7 billion.
Before he was with Bank of Marin, Colombo worked at Comerica Bank, Security Pacific and Union Bank in San Francisco. His night as a Ball Dude was a career highlight of a different kind.
Colombo arrived at the Giants' executive office at 5:30 p.m., about 90 minutes before the first pitch. He was escorted to a room near the team clubhouse, where employees dress, and was issued a uniform. Then he was led through the dugout, past a handful of players and up onto the field to assume his post: a tiny stool in foul territory behind third base, near the home-plate end of the Giants' bullpen.
"Literally, it was the best seat in the house," he says. "I was right there when [Giants pitcher Madison] Bumgarner warmed up, and spent the rest of the game just steps from the action."
Colombo admits that the action was slightly concerning; going into the experience, he worried about muffing any ground balls hit his way. He only received two chances, but he cleanly fielded both and promptly handed the balls to kids in the stands nearby. He also received two shout-outs during the game, one on the Jumbotron and another on the live TV broadcast, during which announcer Duane Kuiper called Colombo "an all-around bitchin' guy."
Announcers spent far more time talking about the other Ball Dude, 81-year-old Joe Martino. Martino was serving his third game as Ball Dude and committed one of those fielding gaffes that Colombo feared, tumbling to the ground as he retreated from a foul pop-up (which first baseman Brandon Belt eventually caught).
Martino also was Colombo's ticket into the park; he recently retired after 13 years on Bank of Marin's board, and was happy to recommend Colombo for ballpark duty. "It was Italian-American Heritage Night," Martino explains. "I told [Sue Peterson, executive director of the Giants Community Fund] they needed a bunch of nice Italian-American boys, and they decided to give the two of us the job."
The Giants lost, 6-1. But Colombo felt like a winner. He had suited up with the team, performed well on the field and lived out a dream, all in front of his wife and grown son, who were inside AT&T Park for the entire game.
Colombo says the experience even taught him an important lesson he can bring back to his day job in banking.
"If I take away anything from my time as Ball Dude, I want to treat my staff the way the Giants' staff treated me," he says. "Everyone, from the woman who handed out uniforms to the security guys on the field, was friendly, respectful and passionate about their jobs.
"That's the sign of a good culture. It's something everyone [in banking] should try to do themselves."