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The Savannah Bananas: Fulfilling Fans First?

The Savannah Bananas make extraordinarily ambitious promises unambiguously explicit while claiming their stated mission of making “Fans First” is their highest priority. The Savannah Bananas are so openly serious about the centrality of Fans First to all their endeavors that they even made Fans First Entertainment the formal name of the corporation that owns and operates the team. We live in an era when broken promises by brands routinely fill the news with violations of customers’ trust and loyalty. Have the Savannah Bananas bitten off more than they can chew? 

To unpeel this banana and uncover the truth, I attended a Savannah Bananas baseball game in person. I was on the field and in the stands on Wednesday, August 9, when they visited the Trenton Thunder. I interviewed members of the Bananas organization. I interviewed fans. I made my own observations. I will conclude by crystalizing the results of everything I saw and heard and sharing my own personal perspective on whether or not the Bananas actually succeed at putting Fans First. 

If this is your first time visiting here at Legends on Deck, welcome, thanks for finding us today, and we invite you to come back often. If you are a returning reader, you’ve highly probably noticed some of our extensive previous coverage of the Savannah Bananas baseball team and their unique concept of Banana Ball. While my initial contribution to this coverage follows in these footsteps, I pursued a previously unexplored direction with this article you are reading now. 

Recognizing the wholesomeness and justice that you, my readers, deserve full disclosure from me, let me make a few things completely clear, especially because of the nature and tone of this piece is a blend of investigative journalism and opinion journalism. Yes, it is true that earlier Legends on Deck coverage of the Bananas has been heavily positive. It’s likewise true that my editors welcome original content created by Matt GraiferThe Young Professor.” David Conde and Brian Koss furthermore made the decision to send me to the game as a formally credentialed media member representing Legends On Deck. My media pass was arranged via the normal channels with the team’s personnel. I received the exact same access and expectations as every ordinary member of the approved media, no more and no less. I greatly appreciate and thank the Bananas for their exemplary professionalism in their media relations.

I eagerly asked for and gladly received various words of wisdom from David and Brian because this was my very first time ever attending a sports event with the rights and responsibilities that come with having a media credential. However, throughout the entire process of crafting my multimedia article, I alone had both full creative control and full opinion control. Nobody from Legends On Deck, and nobody from the Savannah Bananas, and not a person on Planet Earth ever tried to tell me what to say or not say in my pursuit of the truth. Beginning, middle, and end, from every big picture theme down to every tiny punctuation mark, 100% of the reported facts and offered opinions (except when I am clearly quoting other people) are entirely, authentically mine. Frankly let me finish this part by expressing my ongoing heartfelt thanks to David and Brian for the total trust they’ve placed in me with the privilege to represent them in public and the freedom to always speak my mind.

My dad, without even trying, raised me to be a sports media aficionado by his example. This came in handy on Wednesday. During my drive to the ballpark, I had about 25-32 years’ worth of memories, deep in the archives of my brain, to explore like Ali Baba’s cave of treasures, recalling numerous occasions when Philadelphia sports media members, especially over the airwaves of WIP, described their routines while arriving to cover sports games (baseball or beyond). Because I was not completely sure what exactly everything was that I was doing, I was praying to God that I would remember some useful anecdotes from figures I admired such as Ray Didinger, Glen Macnow, Rickie Ricardo, Jody McDonald, Jack Fritz, and James Seltzer. The main overall theme that united the anecdotes from my memory was the idea that the employees of the team are there to help me, so I felt some comfort in that idea.

Nonetheless, this story is not about me because I was not there as a fan. While I went in with a basic plan, the only thing where I felt fully confident was to expect the unexpected and be flexible. Not only did Jesse Cole unhesitatingly agree to provide an interview, but when his schedule soon allowed us to talk, it swiftly threw me a curveball as the team owner became my professional baseball interview debut. Cole graciously accommodated my nerves in the situation, and Cole generously provided four whole minutes of conversation in the raw unedited footage. Watch this video now with all of the relevant substance of our time together.

Having heard from the Top Banana first, I proceeded to hear from others. The VIB, Very Important Banana, ticket holders had arrived on the field for their meet and greet time with autographs and photos.

I intentionally took care to make sure all of the fans, especially all the children, had enjoyed their full experience with Dakota “Stilts” Albritton before I asked him for an interview.

Because it seems obvious to me why Stilts would be one of the easiest remembered entertainers in Banana Ball, I figured hearing his mindset on Fans First should be particularly valuable as a window into whether or not Cole’s vision has effectively molded the mindsets of his players. Watch what Stilts told me, as he spoke from the heart.

My last on-field interview was with another player, 1st Baseman Dan Oberst. I purposefully asked him to talk because the roster revealed that Oberst hails from Long Island, which is quite nearby Staten Island, the destination for the Bananas’ two games immediately following Trenton. I wondered to myself, might Oberst be bringing Banana Ball before his family and friends next? If so, how was he feeling about that? Watch and see how he responded.

The pregame festivities were beginning, and I captured as much of that party as possible, which as always continued into the game itself. Experience my perspective in the following curated cluster of photos and clips. The atmosphere is nearly indescribable, which is why you all need to go see it for yourselves, online and ideally in person. Maybe it’s like a fully family friendly version of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Everybody is part of the same ballpark-wide love fest. Everybody is in a great mood. Everybody is included.

Bananas, banana shapes, banana colors, and banana jokes are everywhere, so I’ll add my little joke; in 4,000 years, archeologists are going to dig us all up and mistakenly assume that Jesse Cole was the leader of a cult dedicated to honoring the banana! 

The Trenton Thunder are a real minor league baseball team. This was not going to be an easy opponent. Some members of the Party Animals also assisted the Thunder players with strategic guidance on the finer points of Banana ball. The local crowd however was entirely on the Bananas’ side, and they made it known. Almost immediately upon beginning the game, a foul ball was hit by a Thunder batter into the crowd. Perhaps the most famous attempt at Fans First is the rule that if a fan catches a foul ball, then the batter is out. Zero fans caught this foul ball, and the crowd jovially booed, and I can say that with deep love for my own people, and tongue-in-cheek, and with a wink and a nod to the undeservedly, excessively harsh reputations of the awesome fan bases in this crowd, a mixture of Philadelphia fans and New York fans.

How many of us sports fans have endured countless incidents arguing with the TV during an official challenge of a crucial call affecting the outcome of a game? Iconic among the unique evidence if the Savannah Bananas and Banana Ball keep Fans First is their Fan Challenge policy. The crowd overall selects one fan by acclamation before the game, and that fan is deputized by Cole, via a fittingly silly ceremony, “By the power vested in me” to wear a black robe and release confetti once per game and force a review of the initial call on the field.

 

The challenge didn’t go the fans’ way, and the umpires did the Worm dance to taunt the fans after they lost the Fan Challenge. This time that honor went to a Bananas super fan, and she told me her side of the story. Was dealing with the Bananas up close and personal as fun as she thought it would be?

During the rest of the game and afterwards, I enjoyed the opportunity to wander the public portion inside and around the ballpark. Concessions prices definitely cost more than even at regular MLB ballparks and NFL stadiums. But I do not believe this was the Bananas’ fault: Not their ballpark, not their rules. That’s Occam’s Razor for this certainly surprising situation; Occam’s Razor basically means that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation when something bizarre happens. I noticed it appeared virtually every concessions price sign was crossed out but not rewritten. My best guess would be that these practices, while surely quite inconsistent with the ethos of Fans First, are most likely practices that Fans First Entertainment, Cole, and his crew unfortunately must tolerate because ballparks where the Bananas are guests are by definition simply beyond the Bananas’ power to control. 

I tried my best to balance honoring the opportunity provided to me via my Legends On Deck editors and the Savannah Bananas media relations people, on the one hand, with not forgetting to enjoy being at a baseball game in general and Banana Ball in particular, on the other hand, viewed some Banana Ball and the regular intervals of comic relief. It took me imagining my sports media hero Ray Didinger shaking his head at me, with a look of disapproval at once befitting of both a grandfather and an elder statesman, for me to stay composed as a proper member of the media and not join in when the Bananas were dancing the Cupid Shuffle. Catch the recording of the official broadcast stream for the game I attended here

I noticed how much attention the crowd was continuing to give to the game and the random goofy entertainment. Fan interest stayed reliably solid over the course of the entire night, even for families where young children might be past their usual bedtimes. Right after the game, the party spilled over into the surrounding plaza outside, at the Bananas’ invitation to the crowd to join them there.

The dancing umpire, Vincent Chapman, was mobbed as it was easily apparent he was one of the most popular performers.

The Young Professor was another popular destination for fans hoping to meet and greet their favorite entertainers of the night.

A Bananas employee told me approximately 130 total players and staff travel on tour. The 2023 Banana Ball World Tour is a highly sophisticated logistical operation. Even around the end of the night, when they looked and sounded seriously tired from a long day, the attitudes and tones of voice that I repeatedly heard Bananas employees use when they were speaking with each other indicated morale and cohesion are exceptionally strong among the team who plays the inside baseball within the Banana world.

I engaged with more fans during and after the game. Their comments appear in the next videos. Similar themes are apparent across the opinions of my various fan sources.

Following my whole extensive journey of conducting field research, most substantially collecting the eyewitness testimony of multiple fans themselves, I then examined the available evidence in the light of the Savannah Bananas’ publicly proclaimed purpose. I additionally applied my own observations about the Bananas, plus my formal education including social sciences, logic, and debate, plus also my practical entrepreneurial experiences. Therefore now let me share my conclusions resulting from my investigation on your behalf, Legends On Deck readers.

It is my carefully considered judgment that simultaneously the Savannah Bananas are genuinely committed to their core mission of Fans First, and the Savannah Bananas are spectacularly effective at successfully fulfilling Fans First. The Bananas diligently ensure that every aspect of the fan experience is carefully curated with their immense enjoyment top of mind. In every conceivable way, the team leaves no stone unturned in its tireless pursuit of going above and beyond for the fans every single time. In 2023, Disney is now regrettably mistaken: Wherever the Savannah Bananas are playing is the real happiest place on Earth!

Jeremy Cerone is a lifelong baseball fan. As a native Philadelphian, he was born and raised as a Phillies fan. He played second base as a kid, even before Chase Utley made it cool. Later, in college, he adopted the Yankees as his American League team. The Phillies remain securely as his first love in baseball. Sports journalism and commentary have fascinated him since childhood. If Mars fielded a baseball team and played the Atlanta Braves, Jeremy would openly cheer for the Martians.

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