Why are Patrick Smith’s clients lying to him about playing minor league baseball?
On a Monday morning, I hobbled into a prospective client meeting.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” I told the potential client, a tall, tanned representative of a company my organization was wooing. “I caught nine innings yesterday and I’m kind of paying for it today.”
I’m the catcher on my weekend recreation league team. We’re in a league for seen-better-days guys who still love to play. It’s no big deal, but it’s hardball. Nothing much to brag about. I only mention it as an icebreaker.
“Hmph,” croaked the client. “I used to play a little ball myself.”
At this point in the conversation, I was thrilled to have found something in common with the guy, who was already projecting defensive and uncomfortable. “You should get back to it,” I said, kind of poking at him, trying to connect. “You look like you can still hit!”
Ha ha, right? Two guys making Monday morning small talk about sports.
Except the client was still uptight. He winced a little at my comment.
“Ah, it wasn’t much,” he said, with a kind of derision, “just minor league ball.”
The conversation slammed to a halt. I was in complete awe. “Whoa! You played minor league baseball?”
He began to puff up a little, and rightfully so. Anyone who’s ever signed a contract to play pro ball, no matter how minor, is way out of my league. Dude, you win.
“It was no big deal,” he says with false modesty. “I only got to triple-A.”
What? No big deal? One step from the big leagues is most certainly a big deal.
“Triple-A! Holy hell! Who’d you play for?”
“Well … I was in the Yankees organization.”
I know a fair amount about minor league baseball. I grew up in a minor league town and have kept a special place in my heart for the players who toil in obscure places like Kinston and Quad Cities.
“Then, let’s see,” I said, trying to guess his team and his rough age. “Triple-A ball for the Yanks … you made it to Columbus?”
“Well, no … actually, I …”
I should have stopped right there. Leave it alone. Read the signs.
“Syracuse? You played for Syracuse, then, right?”
“Ah … no … I … uh … I played for Pawtucket,” he stammered, turning his back on me abruptly and heading for the coffee pot on the table.
I couldn’t suppress a kind of gasping noise.
He muttered at the coffee pot, “I told you. It was nothing.”
The room got a few degrees warmer. He was lying and we both knew it. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that the Pawtucket Red Sox have never been a Yankees farm team. They’ve belonged to Boston for 40 years.
Why would this guy lie about playing minor league baseball? What’s to be gained? I mean, I already had to defer to him; we needed his company’s business. He was eight inches taller and 60 pounds lighter than I am. He had a full head of hair and perfectly creased pants. I have neither of those.
But he had to have it all. He was the type of guy who takes full advantage of his status as a client. The client who eats all the strawberries off the breakfast spread and puts their little green tops back on the platter. The client who knows you think he’s a dick, but makes you listen to his stories anyway.
My organization took the client’s business. If the boss turned down all the assholes we pitched, we’d have no clients at all. Several weeks into the relationship, I traveled to the new client’s headquarters to meet with another guy, a lower-level type. Much friendlier. We sat down for lunch in the company’s fancy cafeteria.
“Hey, what happened to your finger?” he asked me, a few minutes into lunch. I’d taken a foul ball off my right hand a few days before and my right index finger was purple and swollen.
“Foul ball,” I told him, explaining the whole rec league baseball thing.
“Oh yeah? I used to play ball,” he said.
“‘Zat right?” I said, through a mouthful of sandwich.
“Yeah. No big deal. Just the minors.”
—Photo Flickr/cmu chem prof