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By John Cardullo, sportswriter
In today’s sports entertainment landscape, it does not take much to bore the average fan, given the slow pace and drawn-out sports such as baseball, which is leading the face of change needed to excite the fan base.
Basketball has put in the 3-point line to increase scoring, and pretty much eliminated the defensive aspect of the sport, to the point where a team scoring 200 points in a game is reachable. Hockey’s regular season and the playoffs are different as day and night, plus hockey can never shake the reputation that it is Canada’s sport. Pro Football, well, it’s the king of professional sports. Scoring is up, defense is down, and that is exactly how the NFL powers to be want it.
Which leads us to baseball, the grand ole game. Wrapped in history and tradition, baseball has over the years failed to change and reinvent itself to make it more fan appealing. They have tried but for the average baseball fan, the 3 ½ plus hours the game takes to play has driven fans away. Low scoring games and low action has made it into a snooze-fest. Then there have been the work stoppages where millionaires went up against billionaire owners for more money.
The bottom line is that the losers in this cat and mouse game are usually the fans. The average family of four cannot afford to attend a major league game. Between tickets, parking, food and souvenirs the family would have to take out a second mortgage to attend a single game. Attending a minor league game is getting as expensive, and again the entertainment factor is minimal compared to the price fans must pay.
Then there is the Savannah Bananas based out of Savannah, Georgia. Established on February 25, 2016, by owners Jesse, and his wife Emily Cote, they wanted to fill the void of the recently departed minor league baseball team and came up with the Savannah Bananas. They created the business called Fans First Entertainment and moved into the historic Grayson Stadium.
“When we arrived, the stadium was in such disrepair, we didn’t know where to start,” said Jesse Cote, “when the team vacated the stadium, they left nothing, and we soon learned that we had a lot of work to do and little time to do it in.” The grassroots project began with 5 people on staff. Promoting a team named the Bananas to a brand-new fan base took a lot of effort, going into the 2016 season they had only a single season ticket holder.
The team held a reveal party unveiling the new name, the new color scheme (Bright yellow with blue and white trim). Generating both good and bad buzz, the team went viral! Driving home the point there is no bad public relations. Merchandise with the Bananas logo was in demand. Jesse wore a bright yellow tuxedo with a matching bowl hat, that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. Playing in the Coastal Plain League the team took the field for their first game in front of a sold-out standing room only crowd, in the rain!
The 4,000 fans came to see a game and stayed to watch a game in the rain. Breaking the stadium attendance record the team sold out 18 of its first 25 games. The team quickly became part of the community. The fan friendly venue became a fan favorite with a dancing base coach, the typical in between inning shenanigans that happen in minor league baseball games. The Bananas won and kept winning while playing in the Coastal Plain League.
In 2020 with the pandemic raging all over the world, the Coastal Plain League suspended play. In 2022 the Bananas announced that they were leaving the Coastal Plain League. The Bananas had to change gears and go into a new direction. “We wanted to make baseball fun!’ said Cote, and at this time the area needed fun, and decided to play “Banana ball full time.” The Bananas created a rival team called the “Party Animals” who wore pink, black, and white uniforms but were as fun to watch as the Bananas. Grayson Stadium (affectionately known as Bananaland), was alive with baseball at a time where the country needed sometime to smile about.
The starting line ups are often introduced with players coming out of the stands or from the bleaches, or brought in by cars, buses or horse drawn carriages. Players dance in a choreographed dance routine as they head to the plate to bat. An all-female “dance team” known as the Banana Nannas is comprised of women 65 years and older.
An all-male cheering squad called the Man-annas entertain between innings. A marching Pep band would often take the field between innings and players would break into a choreographed dance as they are lip-syncing to oldies or today’s popular songs is often the norm at a game. They are the only baseball team to play in kilts.
Promotions and social media have proven valuable to the multimedia coverage and growth of the Bananas. “We just want to make baseball fun for everyone!” says Cote who works the crowd in his bright yellow tux every game. In addition to a break-dancing third base coach Maceo Harrison the home plate umpire Vincent Chapman will burst out his own dance moves the Floss, the Robot or the Moonwalk as he calls a batter out on strikes. Former major league baseball players such as Boston Red Sox’ Bill Lee, Jonny Gomes and Josh Reddick have all played for the Bananas.
Exposure for the Bananas has exploded in the last few years, making it to every major media outlet, such as spotlight pieces on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ESPN, and had countless focus articles written about them in the New York Times, Time, USA Today and RINewsToday.com. Playing a game called Banana Ball has become the most entertaining and fastest game of baseball. As a matter of fact, the second Rule of Banana ball (they have 9) is each game has a two-hour time limit. No new inning can be started after the 1 hour and 50-minute mark.
The games are known for their epic scoring celebrations, running through the crowd, performing country line dances. Pitcher Dakota “Stilts” Albritton takes the mound on 10-foot stilts. Post game interviews are often conducted in the showers or the bathroom or in the post-game ice bath, in a massage chair or even in the player’s bed!
Rule Number One is win the inning and get a point. Every inning is worth one point, the team that gets the most runs in an inning gets a point for that inning, except the final inning, where every run scored counts. Rule Number 3 is no batter is allowed to step out of the batters’ box once he enters, if he does, it is a strike. There is no bunting as per Rule Number 4, as explained in the rules, “bunting sucks!” If a batter bunts, he is ejected from the game. Another unique Rule is Number 5, batters can steal first base. On any pitch of an at bat, the hitter can try to steal first base. This could happen on a pass ball, wild pitch or anytime the batter chooses.
Rule Number Six is that there are no walks allowed. If a pitcher throws ball four, it becomes a sprint. The batter will take off running while every defensive player must touch the ball before it becomes live. The ball does not have to be touched by either the pitcher or catcher. The runner can advance to as many bases that he wants. Rule Number 7 has no visits to the pitches mound allowed. Keeping the game moving is the primary goal and mound visits from the coach, catcher or any other players at anytime is not allowed. Rule Number 8 encourages the fans to become part of the action. If a fan catches a foul ball a batter is out, however, the fan is discouraged not to catch a foul ball that is hit by a Banana!
The final Rule is Number Nine and it is called “Showdown tie breaker. If the game is tied after the end of the two-hour time limit, the game goes to a “Showdown tie breaker”. In each showdown the batter must score, it is worth one point. If they make an out, there are no points, and it is called a “showdown-showdown”. In round one a pitcher, catcher and one fielder vs one batter. In round two, it becomes a pitcher, catcher and one hitter. Round three gets interesting, pitcher, catcher and one fielder vs one batter with the bases loaded. In this, the final Showdown, every run counts as one point. If no team has won after three showdowns, they will continue with the bases loaded and one fielder until a team has won. However, if at any point a home run is hit out of the park, it is a “Walk-off” win and the game is over. Even if the away team hits it before the home team bats. “The rules are wacky and meant to be fan friendly, and to keep the game moving.” Another perk for attending a Banana game is that your experience is all-inclusive. A fan is treated to all-you-can-eat hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, water, soda, popcorn, and cookies.
Over the last few years, the Bananas and Party Animals began to take their fast-paced style on the road as they barnstormed across the country. They have become even more popular, both teams’ merchandise has become must have to fans and have hit record sales numbers. It is said that the Bananas are a gimmick and don’t hold to the true spirit of the game of baseball, that may be true, but their brand of baseball has electrified their fan base and has brought both fun and interest to an old, dusty and dying sport.
Baseball was once known as America’s pastime but has recently been call America’s Past it’s time game. Perhaps the Bananas have hit on what the future of baseball should be, a fan’s first, fun experience that is affordable for all. If the Bananas are looking to expand, I know a perfect home for a team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island!
John Cardullo, sportswriter
The team has sold all tickets so that the regular people in the neighborhood can’t even go. I work for International Paper and we used to get tickets, but can’t because all tickets supposedly went to a single purchaser. I’m sure they’re making a hefty profit off of a community supported team. It’s really a shame. ??