Savannah Bananas Provide Mass A-PEEL For Fans
In one of the final tuneups of spring training, the Astros gave fans a sneak peek at their Opening Day lineup, headlined by Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker.
Fans couldn’t ask for more than to see the core of the American League champions.
Announced attendance: 1,559 fans.
Later that same day in the same ballpark, Bill Leroy, Jake Skole and Dakota McFadden took the field. So did the Man-Nanas, Princess Potassia and a yellow-tuxedoed team owner when the Savannah Bananas and Party Animals faced off.
Even though almost no one could name a player on the field before they walked into the ballpark, every seat was filled. There were more fans standing in line to get into The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches a couple of hours before game time than came out to see one of the best teams in baseball earlier the same day.
Announced attendance for the Savannah Bananas World Tour game: 7,500 fans.
Getting that many fans to attend any game in West Palm Beach, Fla., isn’t supposed to be possible. The Astros and Nationals share the facility during spring training. They averaged 2,400 fans per game. On their best attendance day, fewer than 4,000 fans walked into the park.
But when the Bananas came to town, they filled the park to the gills. They did the same thing when they went to Daytona Beach, Fla.; Montgomery, Ala.; Columbus, Ga.; and Birmingham, Ala. The tickets for their first game in Kansas City sold out in 16 minutes.
“My dad and family came to West Palm Beach and joined us,” Bananas owner Jesse Cole said. “We ended the game with a surprise firework show. ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack is playing. Not one seat is empty. They haven’t had a crowd like this ever.
“I started thinking, ‘How does a little team like Savannah come in here and sell every single seat?’ I got emotional. I couldn’t believe it.”
Few fans have gotten to see a Banana Ball game in person yet. The Bananas made only one road trip last year, and other than Kansas City, the games this spring were all within driving distance of Savannah.
But that doesn’t mean people aren’t coming from everywhere to see the show, even if it means they have to come to the Bananas rather than the other way around. According to the Bananas, people from 38 states purchased tickets for the Banana Ball opener in Savannah this March.
The Bananas have tapped into something apparent to anyone who wanders the stands during a game, or if you simply ask your non-baseball friend if they have heard about Banana Ball.
People who couldn’t otherwise be dragged to a baseball game will cancel plans to see Banana Ball. The Bananas are having no trouble connecting with younger fans either. The Cubs have an MLB-best 683,000 TikTok followers. The Bananas have 2.5 million followers—more than the top three MLB teams combined.
The Bananas have truly made an impression with fans, both in person and on social media.
All Fun, All The Time
Banana Ball is one part traveling carnival, one part Harlem Globetrotters theatrics and one part neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.
It’s baseball-like, but it’s not baseball. Games can’t take longer than about two hours and 10 minutes and often wrap in just under two hours.
There’s pitching and hitting and fielding, just like baseball. But fans can turn a foul ball into an out if they catch it. Bunting isn’t allowed. Neither are meetings on the mound. Walks are loathed.
Everything is focused on making the game quicker, making it more entertaining and ensuring that there is never, ever a dull moment. Bat flips are not only encouraged but expected. Every run is celebrated as if it was the walk-off hit in Game 7 of the World Series.
There are dueling on-field emcees, one for each team. Instead of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” the entire crowd sings Coldplay’s “Yellow.”
Everything is focused on entertaining every fan from before they walk into the park—the Bananas call Grayson Stadium, a former South Atlantic League facility, home—until well after the game is over.
The carnival begins before the gates open. Before every game, Savannah players head out to high-five fans waiting in line. When the gates open, fans are greeted by the Banana Nanas, the club’s senior citizen dance team; the Man-Nanas, the dad-bod cheerleaders; and the band and the team singing and dancing to “Hey Baby.”
An at-bat may begin with the batter announcing himself, dancing to the batter’s box to his walk-up music or doing a backflip. One player walks out balancing a bat on his chin. Another sets his bat on fire.
The national anthem ends with both teams jumping straight into a kick line. There’s a weigh-in showdown before each game, just after the Banana “baby of the day” is presented to the crowd in a scene ripped out of “The Lion King.”
You may see a player take an at-bat while wearing stilts. You will see the home plate umpire break out a dance after calling a strikeout. And you’re guaranteed to see the team come sprinting through the stands to high-five fans after a walk-off inning win.
They’ll do “Baby Shark” after every stolen base. First base coach Maceo Harrison can yell for a baserunner to get back, but his main job is to be the team’s choreographer and ring leader of the on-field dance routines.
The all-fun, all-the-time approach is easily apparent to anyone walking around the stadium. The way the Bananas flip the focus to the fans takes a little more time to perceive.
The players are more than willing to sign autographs for kids before or after the game. But they also have a knack of asking those same kids to sign their hats or jerseys. By flipping the script, more than one shy kid was brought out of their shell. Instead of being pushed to ask something of a player, they were making a connection with a new friend.
A Bananas game features a between-innings promotion where a player goes into the stands to ask fans to take a selfie with him. Again, the focus is on asking the fan to interact with the players, rather than requiring the fans to ask the players for a favor.
Fans are invited on the field to sign the fan banner in right field, where players are present looking to interact with the fans. A pair of players heads out before the game to set up in a photo spot by a yellow-painted Volkswagen van. They ask fans on their way into the park if they want to take a photo.
And when the game is over, Bananas staff members have bags of popcorn they hand out for free. The goal is to get everyone to hang out for a while longer. The players don’t head to the clubhouse. Instead they head out to the plaza to join the crowd for a post-game party.
The secret weapon of the Bananas’ success are those players. By picking teams of players who actively want to be part of the show, the Bananas have managed to merge the between-innings activities with the game on the field.
And much like the Harlem Globetrotters, it allows the Savannah Bananas to create a unique brand that’s not easily replicable.
Baseball America To Stream 2022 American Association All-Star Game
The American Association of Professional Baseball and Baseball America have partnered to feature a free live-stream of the 2022 American Association All-Star Game on Baseball America’s website, www.baseballamerica.com.
Rules Of Banana Ball
* The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets a point. If the team in the bottom of the inning scores more runs than the team in the top of the inning, that inning ends immediately.
* Two-hour time limit. No inning will begin after one hour and 50 minutes has elapsed from first pitch. If the two teams remain tied after the final inning, an immediate showdown is held. Each team gets one batter. There’s a pitcher, catcher and one fielder on the diamond. If the batter puts the ball in play, it’s a race for him to round the bases before the lone fielder can get the ball thrown to the catcher to retire him. Every ball in play in the showdown is either an out or a race around the bases.
* No stepping out of the batter’s box. No meetings on the mound. No bunting.
* If the ball gets away from the catcher on any pitch, the batter can try to steal first base.
* No “walks.” In the case of ball four, the batter can go as far as he can before every fielder touches the ball. Usually that leads to him standing on second.
* Fans are part of the game. If a foul ball is caught by a fan, it’s an out.