Mars National Bank near Pittsburgh is tapping a native son's ties to America's pastime to raise its local profile.

The $351 million-asset institution in Mars, Pa., has formed a marketing campaign around pitchman Neil Walker, 27, a second baseman for the Pirates who grew up seven miles away from the bank's headquarters.

Walker, who stands 6 foot 3 and averaged .256 at the plate through Thursday afternoon, first came to Mars National Bank as a customer. His father, Tom, a former major league pitcher who won 18 games over six seasons with the Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and California Angels, is a customer, too.

"Many of us know Neil, and when there was an opportunity for us to work together, there was a nice connection," Jim Dionise, Mars National Bank's chief executive, told American Banker. "His point of view is similar to ours: working hard and making sure you take care of the relationship. I think we hit it off."

Mars National is among several banks that have recently turned to sports stars to build business and spur goodwill. Hanmi Bank in Los Angeles has signed Shin-Soo Choo of the Cincinnati Reds and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgersas its public faces in a move the bank hopes will build excitement throughout the area's Korean-American community. Baltimore's First Mariner Bancorp (FMAR) recently re-signed Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco to be a local face for the institution.

Officials at Mars National initially envisioned a series of television commercials in which Neil promotes the bank's home equity loans. "Some people call me 'The Pittsburgh Kid,'" Walker says in one commercial. "I grew up here and I love our community."

Later, the marketing team at Mars also decided to record a series of conversations between Neil and Tom in which the men talk about playing baseball, making it to the big leagues and banking with Mars.

Neil — whose likeness appears on posters and pop-up displays at the bank's six branches — also talks about playing in the Brad-Mar Pine Community Little League and attending Pine-Richland High School. The Pirates signed him in 2004.

Neil and Tom have something else in common besides their bank. The pair is one of six father-son duos to be drafted in the first round, according to ESPN. Other members of the club: Jeff and Sean Burroughs, Ben and Tom Grieve, Steve and Nick Swisher, and John Mayberry Jr. and Delino DeShields Jr. and their dads.

Though the team's travel schedule prevents Neil from appearing on behalf of the bank during the season, bank officials say also they hope to do an added promotion with him after the season.

The bank's skipper says the campaign has been a hit with customers and the bank's roughly 100 employees. "I think it's resonated very well," Dionise said. "People are thrilled to see the connection."

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