” I SAY SAVANNAH! YOU SAY BANANA!” and I along with 3,999 other people responded to SAVANNAH! with BANANA! And, that was the start of our first experience at a Savannah Banana ballgame. It was so much fun! I saw where one writer described it as ” a show where a ballgame breaks out”. They make baseball fun.
Since we don’t get to see our North Carolina family as much as we like our family Christmas get-together happened in March at Savannah’s Grayson Stadium for our first ever Banana ballgame. You have to know, Banana Ball is not played the way a typical baseball game is played.
The North Carolina Koppin Gang
The Founder / Owner Jesse Cole and his wife Emily are dedicated to making this a “Fans First Entertainment” venue.
Emily, Jesse, and “Baby Banana”
More of the Savannah Banana story can be found in the “About Us” section on their website https://thesavannahbananas.com/about_us/ .
My understanding is the beginning came when Jesse and Emily went from Gastonia, North Carolina where Jesse was associated with a team there to a ballgame at Grayson Stadium in Savannah and found the stadium mostly empty. Jesse called the baseball commissioner and told him that if the team there left, they were coming to Savannah. Turned out the NY Mets wanted a new ballpark and if Savannah didn’t build it, they were leaving. Savannah said “No” to that demand and called Jesse. The commissioner agreed to go to Gastonia to see what they were doing there. Shortly, thereafter, the Savannah Director of Leisure worked out a deal to give the Coles a shot in Savannah even though most people were not really sure what to expect.
In October 2015, Jesse, Emily, a 24-year-old President, and three 23 year-olds showed up at the stadium full of excitement and expectation and quickly lost that feeling when they found the stadium had no furniture, no equipment, no phone lines, no internet, or offices. Three men from the City showed up, gave them a handful of keys, say “Good Luck” and left.
They put up some fold-out chairs and tables in a storeroom, got some phone lines, and started calling people in the community to let them know what they were doing and worked to get some supplies and services set up.
In November 2015, they rented the Conference Center in Savannah to make the announcement that they were coming to Savannah, who they were, and what their plans were. After all their efforts only about 100 people showed up.
In the first two months, they sold ONE season ticket. They weren’t selling tickets or sponsorships. People were doubtful about this “college summer team” coming to town.
In January 2016, while away at a wedding, Jesse got a call that their bank account had been overdrawn. That’s when Jesse and Emily decided to sell their house, everything they owned, empty their bank account, buy an air mattress and go “all in”. They set up in the storeroom at the stadium.
In February 2016, there was a contest to name the team and that’s when everything changed. People began to be interested. Some of the team names that were suggested are The Savannah Pickles, The Ghosts, The Sailors, The Spectors. But the name chosen was “THE SAVANNAH BANANAS”.
On February 25,2016 they had a name reveal. They knew they had to be really different – Really outside the Box. And the name Savannah Banana is the only name that fits for this.
There were lots of social media conversations about this name. Most of the comments were not favorable. BUT everyone WAS talking about them. Within 30 minutes they were trending # 1 on Twitter. Merchandise started selling immediately. ESPN was calling them.
Shortly after they had their name and logo reveal, they had another reveal. Meet SPLIT, The King of Potassium !
At the first game, which was to start at 7 PM, reporters were lined up outside the stadium in the early morning to learn more about that evening’s sell-out game. At 5:30 when the gates opened for the 7 pm game there were hundreds of people there that had been standing in the pouring rain. By 8:30, when the game got started, the stadium was still packed. 4000 people!
Opening Night, the first game, is always exciting, And challenging for the team and the staff. They try to do their best to make it a good experience for everyone. And they strive to continue to do their best for each game, because in their words, “it’s always someone’s first game”. Every game has been selling out since they got started.
Tickets for the game are $20 which includes free parking and food. Seats are not assigned. When we were there in Savannah, as we went through the buffet line set up for food, the food we saw available was hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, potato chips, cookies, canned sodas, and bottled water. Sacks and cup holders were provided at the beginning of the line so we didn’t have to balance everything to get back to our seats.
One Sports Writer calls the Savannah Banana games “a circus with a baseball game in the middle of it”. We found that to be true. He said it was always challenging for him to cover minor league games because it seems that the players were more auditioning for their next job rather than just enjoying the game they were playing. With these college-age ballplayers, it was different. Jesse says the players play better when the fans are having a good time.
Jesse is quoted as saying if baseball is slow and boring to many, including himself, they need to do something to create a non-stop show of entertainment. So he began to learn everything he could about baseball and entertainment and came up with a few things like ” the players can play —can they dance?”
I think that was the start of the many shenanigans. I remember hearing about an interview with a potential player. They asked him what he could do. He told them what position he played, his hitting average, and how he did in the games. When asked if there was anything else he could do, he said he could ride a unicycle. They told him he should have started with that! They hired him.
Here are just a few things we saw while we were there. They were playing the Party Animals who they normally play. The Party Animals had plenty of shenanigans of their own,too.
After he made it to first base, the coach decided they needed a pinch-runner. We saw two players doing rock, paper, scissors to decide to had to go run.
Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of some of the other funny things we saw. The Pep Band goes through the stadium sometimes, even leading a conga line. We sat along the first base line and watched that coach dance, break dance, do backflips, mock the pitcher, lay on the ground… all kinds of things. The Party Animal 1st base coach had his own moves too. The 3rd base coach was holding the bat dog for an inning or two. Other times he had the lighted batons like they use to guide an airplane in to help guide the runner. We saw the pep band follow the runner to home plate. We saw the other players take a high chair out to 3rd base and carry the runner in on the chair to home plate after he had made a home run. Partway into the game, someone decided they needed a 2nd base coach. The player ran out there with his can of paint, made himself a box, and laid on the ground so he could coach 2nd. This is about all I can remember about what was going on. It really is like watching a circus. Something is always happening!
Now, Jesse said a traditional ballgame is usually long and boring. Minor league games have some entertainment but can also be long and boring too. So to make The Bananas different they came up with these rules for “Banana Ball”. Here they are.
1 –EVERY INNING COUNTS The team that gets the most runs in an inning, gets a point for that inning. Win the inning, get a point.
2- TWO HOUR TIME LIMIT If the game is tied at the end of two hours, the game will go into a showdown to determine the winner.
3 -NO STEPPING OUT If the batter steps out of the box, it’s a strike.
4-NO BUNTING Bunting Sucks. If a batter bunts, they will be thrown out of the game.
5- BATTERS CAN STEAL FIRST If a passed ball or wild pitch happens during any pitch of an at-bat, the batter can take off to first base.
6-NO WALKS ALLOWED If a pitcher throws the 4th ball it becomes a sprint. The hitter will take off running while the catcher has to throw the ball around to every defensive player on the field before it becomes live. This hitter can advance to as many bases as he can. The ball does not have to touch the catcher or the pitcher.
7- 1 ON 1 SHOWDOWN TIE BREAKER Each team picks one pitcher and hitter to face off. The defensive team only has the pitcher, catcher, and one fielder on the field. If a hitter puts a ball in play, he has to score and make it home to get a point. If the ball is put in play, the pitcher and fielder are allowed to chase the ball and throw it to the catcher for a play at the plate. If a pitcher strikes him out before scoring, he doesn’t get a point. If the batter walks, he takes 2nd and the hitting team will bring another hitter to the plate.
8- NO MOUND VISITS ALLOWED Let’s keep the game moving. No mound visits from the coach, the catcher, or any other player. Hype your pitcher from afar.
9-IF A FAN CATCHES A FOUL BALL, IT’S AN OUT Why not let the fans get in on some of the action? Whatever you do, just don’t catch a foul ball.
You can find more information about the Savannah Bananas, including their schedule on their website https://thesavannahbananas.com/about_us/
Many of their games are sold out, so if you want to go, get your tickets early. I hope you found this blog fun and interesting. Please leave me a comment.
Until next time…