A Second Look at Banana Ball: July 2021 – Present
When I first heard of the Savannah Bananas it was sometime in early 2021. I came across this peculiar team through their social media pages. As a baseball writer, I tend to follow any team pages that I discover, but this one seemed different. Yes, they were a summer collegiate wood bat league team at the time. But, there was something very unique going on the in Savannah. I found the videos with all the singing and dancing, then I found their Facebook fan page where fans posted about their experiences. After reading dozens of these posts, I realized I had start covering this team.
Becoming a Banana-maniac
My first thought was to post on their fan page, so I did. I mentioned that I was a baseball writer and was very intrigued with what the Bananas were doing. I asked members of their fan page what I needed to know in order to write about them. Everyone’s reaction was similar, “you’ve got to witness the Bananas in person!” A very generous season ticket holder reached out and offered his two season tickets for any game I could attend. Coincidentally, I picked July 4th. The reason that date matters is because it was one of the experimental, non-league sanctioned games of Banana Ball. The Savannah Bananas vs the Party Animals on Independence Day — what could be better?!
As a writer, I realized I had another arrow in my quiver. At Legends on Deck, we have often covered games in person as members of the media. In fact, my favorite writing experience prior to visiting Savannah had been covering the Florida State League All-Star Game with David Conde in Jupiter (FL). So, I went for it. I emailed the Bananas staff and requested a media pass. Unexpectedly, my email was immediately forwarded to none other than Jesse Cole!
Long story short, I lined up a phone interview with Jesse and wrote Meet Jesse Cole, Savannah’s Top Banana. It was a great interview in a number of ways. First, it highlighted Jesse’s passion for baseball. From his formative years through college and then into the business side of the game. Second, it helped paint a picture of what Banana Ball was all about and where it was going.
From Savannah to Tampa
So the next week, off I went with my then five year old son, George, up to Savannah (about a 4 hour drive from Orlando). It was that day, July 4, 2021 when we had our first Bananas experience. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more. The journey was chronicled in my piece, One Night in Bananaland. In this article, I was able to capture the magic of that first experience and some of the people that made the Bananas what they were then and have become today.
Looking back, it’s amazing that in just a few years, the Savannah Bananas went from a fun little local collegiate summer ball team to full-scale independent traveling baseball phenomenon. I feel fortunate to be a very small part of that journey, as someone who’s covered their rise to fame. Since my trip in 2021, we have hosted several members of the Bananas operations on the Legends on Deck Podcast. They’ve included Head Coach Tyler Gillum, The Young Professor (Matt Graifer) and Party Animal Dalton Cornett. Each member of the Bananas team has grown into their roles in a big way.
Looking back at my first trip, in addition to my introductions to Jesse Cole and Tyler Gillum, I also met Tris Meyers. Tris is an original member of the Man-anas (Dad Bod Cheerleading Squad). We caught up in Tampa, where he told me he makes as many trips as he can on the Banana Ball Tour. Tris and other traveling members of the Man-anas continue to be a critical part of the fan experience. The great thing about Banana fans is that they are just as excited to meet staff members as they are players. Kids loved taking pictures with Tris and other members of this Squad.
Then there’s “The Shark” Mark Ediss. He’s the guy behind the music and soundboard. He was also a part of my first review. While The Shark may not be visible to the fans, he’s the heartbeat of entire operation. Unlike most baseball games you’ve attended, music is more than just walk-up songs and transitions between innings. The music is literally, non-stop. Mark’s musical selections fuel the entertainment in the stands and on the field. Whether it’s Jesse Cole and the Young Professor singing with the fans, the dancing umpire calling balls and strikes or Bill LeRoy playing guitar on his bat to Bill Squier; music flows through the entire Bananas experience.
Unforgettable Family Fun
There are a few big takeaways I have from both experiences, nearly two years apart. The Bananas baseball experience is unforgettable, it’s truly enjoyed by fans of all ages and it’s getting kids excited about baseball. I recall a discussion I had with a fan in Savannah two years ago. He had been longtime season ticket-holder for both the Savannah Sand Gnats and then the Bananas. He described himself as a “baseball traditionalist” but also loved what the Bananas were bringing to the game. As you looked around at the crowd on Saturday that’s what you saw, fans (of all ages) who loved all the energy and entertainment the Bananas are bringing to the sport. It was particularly awesome to see how excited kids were to get autographs and interact with the Bananas players.
While many aspects of the two events were similar, it’s clear that the entire Bananas operation has worked hard to hone their craft. Taking the whole show on the road, out of Grayson Stadium and to cities all over America is no small feat. Thankfully, the weather permitted (just barely). I also got to enjoy a couple new elements this trip. First, watching the action with my Legends on Deck partner, David Conde. David has written his own perspective on the event and was absolutely blown away by what he witnessed in Tampa.
Second, watching the Young Professor, Matt Graifer in action. I was floored by his abilities to entertain and how he and Jesse Cole were able to tag team the hosting elements of the whole operation. And even better, he’s now documenting his journey on the road with Notes from the Young Professor, here at Legends on Deck.
Finally, it was fun to see the MLBPAA members joining in the fun. The Bananas are doing a number of “challenger” games where they go out and play other teams other than the Party Animals. This is genius in a number of ways. It expands the reach of Banana Ball itself, but it also brings it together with other parts of the baseball community. Seeing former big league names like Lou Piniella, Nick Swisher, Bronson Arroyo and others out there having a blast with it, really added a whole new layer to the potential the Bananas brand has to grow. It can live side by side and sometimes on the same field as the game we all love.
The Savannah Bananas continue to live up to their motto; fans first! Every aspect of the Banana Ball World Tour experience is done with the fans in mind. It’s non-stop fun from the moment you enter the stadium until after you leave. The level of interaction between the players and personnel and the fans is also something you’d almost never experience in professional sports. While Banana Ball may be it’s own unique style of play, there are so many elements of the Bananas fan experience that MLB would be wise to emulate.
Keep it up Bananas!