Savannah Bananas are here to make you smile


The Savannah Bananas were included in FanSided’s Fandoms of the Year for 2022, selected as the fandom Most Likely to Put a Smile on Your Face. Check out the rest of the list here

When I went to a minor-league baseball game last summer I somehow managed to forget there was a smartphone in my pocket for about an hour. There was so much to hold my attention — from the giveaways in the stands to the quick outs due to the pitch clock, and the blow-up sumo wrestlers on the field between innings on dollar beer night. I couldn’t look away. Now I’m imagining watching that game while on a rollercoaster, listening in on some hot gossip, and winning $100 on a scratch-off all at the same time. That must be what it’s like to be in the crowd at a Savannah Bananas “Bananaball” home game. It might be enough to make you sick, but surely you’d never forget it, and I’d be a fan for life.

If you’re not familiar with the Bananas, they’re a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde operation. They began as a team in a prestigious, collegiate summer “wood bat” league. However, they developed an alter ego as a baseball circus that feels like a gymnastics meet taking place in a WWE ring. Jesse Cole, the Bananas’ owner, plays the role of master of ceremonies in a bright yellow tux, cooking up new stunts constantly for the exhibition Bananaball games.

In these contests, the rules of the game have changed: there’s a two-hour time limit, batters can’t step out of the box, and if a spectator catches a foul ball, it’s an out — among other wrinkles. The Bananas have a senior citizen dance squad and cheering section called the “Nanas,” players can opt to do backflips in the outfield before catching the baseball, TikTok dances on the mound before the pitcher’s delivery are a must, and so on. Is it baseball? Maybe, maybe not. But it will definitely put a smile on your face.

The Savannah Bananas vs The Kansas City Monarchs
The Savannah Bananas vs The Kansas City Monarchs /

The “Bananaball” rules and antics alone are enough to pull most spectators aboard the bandwagon. I watched a local Georgia news segment on the Bananas where the first thing out of a fan’s mouth was “baseball is boring. This is different!” Folks I interviewed had similar thoughts.

Educator Christine Davis said, “Most people complain that baseball is too slow and therefore doesn’t hold their attention…. [The Bananas provide] a lot to watch at all times.”

After being introduced to the Bananas, writer Nathan Tompkins said, they’re “The baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters” — an extremely common but apt comparison.

A Twitter follower chimed in that the team made him happy just because “their name rhymes.”

Pack on the extreme ump shows, viral videos, and fan inclusion, and you just can’t look away. It doesn’t hurt that a ton of major league talent has flowed through the clubhouse, including former stars like Bill Lee, Johnny Gomes, Eric Byrnes, and Josh Reddick. It certainly feels new and adaptable in a way Major League Baseball is not. Poet Krystal Languell said the team is a poster child for the slogan, “Let the kids play.”


Photo Credit: Savannah Bananas
Photo Credit: Savannah Bananas /

However, the reason I’m rooting for the Bananas isn’t just the hijinks described above. The Bananas are carrying on a 100-plus-year-old legacy. Think about it. The team is going on a “World Tour” in the summer of 2023. They’re barnstorming! And thank goodness the team is bringing it back. When I asked my baby boomer father about the Bananas, his text read, “Looks like a fun time. Old-time barnstormer baseball.” These are long-held baseball traditions. The Bananas are borrowing from The House of David, the Bloomer Girls, and perhaps most importantly, teams like the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns.

According to Geri Strecker, a Clowns’ historian, the Midwestern barnstorming team began as a minstrel show that provided “interesting quality baseball, but just as much…clowning.” With players from Hank Aaron to Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, the Clowns entertained audiences with a baseball show traveling across the country and they became part of The Negro Leagues in the 1940s, when the association was looking to reinvent itself and bring in new fans. Sound familiar? Perhaps the Bananas aren’t nodding openly to their cultural legacy, but by merely existing they illuminate a past we think of as done and dusted.

The Bananas are bringing other entertaining baseball histories back to life as well. They’ve got their own brass band at the ballpark — a popular feature in baseball stadiums at the turn of the 20th century. They’ve also got players on stilts, wearing makeup, and juggling. Remember the “Clown Prince of Baseball,” Max Patkin? The Bananas have done a bang-up job making what’s old fun again.

Baseball is in need of some reinvention these days. Could MLB learn from the Bananas? Absolutely. Jesse Cole should give workshops for MLB front offices on social media, giveaways, adaptability, and fan involvement. Still, Bananaball is probably not what “baseball traditionalists” want to see from their Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox on a regular basis. However, Cole’s brand of Americana certainly has made its mark — the Bananas’ popularity proves that. The team brings the good times and draws a crowd — especially when you can get a ticket that includes unlimited food and drink for only $20.

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