I might be outing myself a little bit here, but I had never been to a Savannah Bananas game before 2020. I had always heard about the wackiness and downright fun of the games at Historic Grayson Stadium, but I never made the 30-minute trek crossing over the Talmadge Memorial Bridge to catch a game.
Looking back now, that was an obvious mistake. What they have done in BananaLand—and what they continue to do—is changing the game of baseball for the better. As much fun as I had playing in my career at Hilton Head Island High School and then at Charleston Southern University, I never knew it was possible to have this much fun on a baseball field. I never knew that caring about how much fun you have on the field can (and should) be the same as how much you care about the box score at the end of the night.
My name is Kevin Hickey. I have been a Banana, participating in two Breakfast Bowl series. I have been on the other side as a Party Animal for the first-ever Premier Spring Series. I covered the 2021 CPL team during their extraordinary season en route to a championship. It was a magical calendar year, not only for me personally but for the Nanners as well. And I’m here to tell you about it.
(For a fantastic recap of the 2021 summer, our own Biko Skalla wrote a literal college essay. What a guy that Biko).
A Few Glasses Of Wine Leads To Breakfast Bowl Part 1
I never was much of a wine guy. It wasn’t until I took a trip to Italy, the origin of my ancestors, that I fell in love with Chianti Classico. Since I made that trip in 2018, wine has been my go-to at home. It only makes sense that wine played a small role in my decision to start playing baseball again with the Bananas in 2020. One summer night, I may or may not have had a few glasses. That’s when I got a text from Jake Martin, a fellow Breakfast Bowl companion, asking if I had any interest in playing with the Bananas for nine games.
Thanks to the liquid courage that is Classico, I quickly accepted despite having not done anything baseball related in four and a half years. I was psyched, though, no doubt about it. I even began taking ground balls in my living room that night. Shoutout to my beautiful wife, Jordan, for always putting up with my shenanigans and rolling me ground balls in a living room without furniture at 10:00 p.m. because I was excited.
After confirming with my guy Patrick Briody, who has worked with the Bananas from the start, and going to the cage to swing all of one time, I felt ready to go for my first game in BananaLand. I had no idea what to expect. No one truly does until they step on the field wearing all yellow with music constantly blaring out of the speakers and a team called the Macon Bacon is standing in the dugout opposite you.
I thought I was ready when I took my first swing in a Bananas uniform. *Narrator: He was not ready.*
After four and a half years away from the game, how hard could it be to hit again? It’s like riding a bike right? Wrong. No one told me that it’s hard to keep your balance when your first swing in nearly half a decade is a daddy hack on a slider so my body’s natural reaction is “okay, bro we’re gonna tap out here.” What followed was the slowest fall known to man. It really was like a Life Alert commercial in how my body found its way to the ground. It was the lowest of points. My rock bottom. And I had just gotten there.
Fortunately, there is only one place to go from there. Up. It certainly couldn’t have gotten worse! I found my footing (sort of) the next night in Macon. Our fearless leader Scott Strickland made the wise choice to keep me out of the lineup but was kind enough to give me a pinch hit opportunity late in the game. I was able to come through breaking a tie ballgame with a two-run single, finally showing my teammates I’m not just some bozo (for the most part). That didn’t keep me from falling on my face again going full scorpion, heels to the back of my head, when trying to score later in that game. But it didn’t matter. The boys were rolling in the Breakfast Bowl after a road win.
That first Breakfast Bowl team had some dudes. From Cal Baker and Clint Hardy finding barrels every game to Walker Paz and Khalil Robinson coming through with big hits, this team cruised to a Breakfast Bowl trophy.
The first Breakfast Bowl was wild for me. It was new to the Bananas as well, especially after having to go through a year limited by COVID-19. I was having success on the field. Probably at a rate higher than I ever had in my career. But that wasn’t what stood out to me over the course of my first nine games in BananaLand.
It was the atmosphere. It was the constant parade of events and mid-inning promotions. It was fans going wild over free T-shirts and pies in the face. It was interacting with the fans in the plaza following every home game. It was a circus. I quickly realized I was all for it. This is how baseball should be played. It was completely new to me, but I wanted more of it.
The Birth of a Party Animal
I’m not a big party guy. I’ll have a good time. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. But if you were to ask those who know me, the absolute last description of me would be “Party Animal.” That would all change, though, during the spring of 2021 when the Bananas organized their first-ever Premier Team in the Spring Series. The Bananas vs. the Party Animals. Two teams birthed from one tryout in Savannah set to play two games at Grayson Stadium and two games in Mobile, AL.
After Berry Aldridge notified me and a bunch of the Breakfast Bowl guys about the tryouts, I was immediately in. Another chance to play for the Bananas AND get paid? Who wouldn’t do that? The tryout was a bit intimidating, though. I thought I had a pretty solid chance of making the team going into it. I hadn’t gone to a tryout/showcase in 10 years, but I felt confident. Then I saw guys like Dakota McFadden and Sam Claycamp taking hacks and playing in the field. Malachi Mitchell literally proving to be the fastest player in baseball. It quickly dawned on me. These dudes can play.
Fortunately, I did enough to be one of the 40 or so selected for the Premier Team. I was placed on the Party Animals with only two other guys that I previously knew: Jacob Teston and Matt Schiaffino from the Breakfast Bowl. Other than that, it was a collection of guys who mostly didn’t know each other.
What was crazy about the Spring Series was how quickly everyone bonded. Regardless of Banana or Party Animal, we knew we were all in this together trying to put a show on for the fans. It didn’t take long for players all over the country to get along with each other. We had the chemistry of a team that had been together for years. For us on the Party Animals, there could have been no better leader than Adam Moreau. They just don’t make ’em like Mo anymore.
The Bananas organization as a whole was on new ground here. The Spring Series provided them a chance to branch out from underneath the CPL blanket and introduce to the world a game called Banana Ball. At its core, Banana Ball is a fast-paced and highly entertaining variant of your typical baseball game. No mound visits. No stepping out. If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out. These are some of the differences in Banana Ball.
Being a member of the Party Animals was a bit of a different feeling. I had worn a Bananas uniform to this point so being on the other side was odd. But it didn’t take long to buy into our mantra of crushing deadlifts, pounding energy drinks and doing pushups every time we scored a run. We didn’t mind playing the “villain” role in the Spring Series. The fans were there to see the Bananas, of course. But we were going to do our best to convert anyone we could to be fans of the Party Animals.
I kept telling the Party Animals throughout that month of March: “This is Rocky IV. We are in Rocky in Russia. By the end of this, they will be chanting our name.”
That wouldn’t happen in Game 1 of the Spring Series, though. The Bananas took that home game with ease. The next week for Game 2, Jesse Cole approached me asking if I would do the pregame weigh-in. Of course, I said without hesitation. But I knew I wanted to bring a bit more flair. So I busted out the leather jacket (Calvin Klein) and dug into my humidor for a cigar (Arturo Fuente). The only thing I didn’t like about this was the fact that I had to line up across from Wild Bill Pearson. One of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met but when you have to stand next to him, it’s a bit intimidating. The guy is a literal house.
The Party Animals took Game 2 of the Spring Series, and now we’re off to Mobile. Led by our valiant coaches Nate Fish, Adam Viro and Adam Moreau, we brought BananaLand to Mobile. The first day we got there, they had lunch for us and Jessee again approached me asking if I’d do the weigh-in. I agreed, of course, but then I remembered I forgot the leather jacket. Because I’m dumb. This led to a whole situation where I knew I had to find some kind of outfit to wear for the pregame event.
Our hotel was near some stores so I venture out in search for leather. Apparently, there was a shortage in Mobile, because I couldn’t find anything. Then I happened across a denim jacket. Inspiration strikes. Cut off the sleeves, grab a pair of daisy dukes (I’m a women’s size 12 apparently), and we have our outfit. Was it a little out there? Sure. But it was for the fans. And what fans don’t want to see a slightly out-of-shape 27-year-old in a cut-off denim jacket, daisy dukes and drawn-on abs.
Mobile was incredible. Playing in front of 3,500 fans each night—many of which had no idea who the Bananas were—was an absolute treat. They brought the energy both nights and gave us an abundance of memories that we’ll never forget. We also got to hang out with Jake Peavy, which is a bonus.
Most of all, it showed us that the Bananas have the potential to make an impact on the game of baseball outside of Grayson Stadium.
A Magical Summer
Through the Spring Series, Berry and President Jared Orton learned that my day job is as a sports writer covering the Indianapolis Colts for USA TODAY SMG. With this knowledge, they approached me with an offer to be the “beat writer” for the Bananas, covering the home games during the 2021 CPL summer season. This was a no-brainer for me, and it led to me witnessing nothing short of a magical summer in BananaLand.
When it comes to successful teams, one question is often posed. Does winning breed team chemistry or does team chemistry breed winning? Sometimes its one. Sometimes it’s the other. For the 2021 Bananas summer team, it was the latter. Building chemistry wasn’t something they needed to work on. It was already built into the foundation.
From multi-year Bananas like Verified Bill LeRoy, Kyle Luigs, Dan Oberst and Christian Dearman to new players like Ty Jackson and Andrew Armstrong, it’s easy to see why this team won so many games. They’re incredible at the game of baseball. That’s without saying. But this team gelled like none I’ve seen before. They were more than a team. They were a family.
The boys just kept winning. They started off 11-0 and kept the trains rolling even after a loss. They finished 36-9 during the regular season and went through a roller coaster of emotions during the playoffs. Hoisting the Petitt Cup at season’s end, the Nanners finished with an overall record of 40-10.
It was a successful summer on the field, but the Bananas made an impact by going viral once a week it seemed. ESPN wrote an article about what goes on in BananaLand and how MLB could learn a thing or two. Ty Jackson was an electric factory all summer, getting on base, swiping bags and going absolutely viral on TikTok. Nick Clarno bringing insane energy with a Stone Cold walk-up. And, of course, who can forget Bill LeRoy crashing the internet when he announced himself at the plate? You know he’s verified right?
The summer of 2021 was something to certainly remember. I learned a lot about the organization and the players simply by watching them in their element. They proved to be fans first in every sense of the word, and it doesn’t help to hold the championship trophy at the end of the season.
The Most Ambitious Breakfast Bowl Crossover
I’m a big fan of comic books. Marvel Comics mostly. So it was hard for me to contain my excitement when Avengers: Infinity War came out in 2018. It was dubbed “the most ambitious crossover event in history.” While that may be true, we did our best to top that with the Breakfast Bowl V2 roster.
We were getting the best of multiple rosters. We had Banana legends who are likely getting a statue in the near future in Bill LeRoy, Kyle Luigs, Christian Dearman and Dan Oberst. Then there was a strong mix of the Spring Series players like Dakota McFadden, Mike Vavasis, Josh Lavender, Bill Pearson, Jacob Teston and Jansen Neff. We also brought in this guy Dalton Mauldin. He’s a really good second baseman, but did you know he sings too?? Incredible.
It was like having all the best characters of a long-running TV show share the same locker room. And just like the summer team, chemistry was no issue. The guys gelled as if we had all been playing together on the same travel team growing up. These are the guys you go to war with.
It got rowdy with Red Light, Green Light pumping through the speakers in the locker room. Lavy went viral on the tour as he walked to the plate with Zack Frongillo as his caddie.
Bill LeRoy again went viral because he can see the future and predicted he’d make a play in ridiculous detail. Thus, proving we live in a simulation.
Christian Dearman proved he’s an absolute god with his Ric Flair impersonation, walking to the mound in a kimono and pitching nothing but Bananas underwear. I’ve watched that video roughly 10 times per day.
We did some baseball things, too. Yours truly got a few at-bats at the beginning of the series before my shoulder came out of socket multiple times while swinging. Fun stuff. Dakota McFadden brought the power at the plate and the heat on the mound, coming through with huge plays during his short time at the end of the series. He was busy dropping bombs in the PECOS league before coming back to Savannah.
It ended with a dog pile and another trophy at the end of the summer as we cruised to another Breakfast Bowl championship. The Most Entertaining Team in Baseball winning two championships in a single year.
Thank You, BananaLand
If you told me in July 2020 that I would be involved with the Savannah Bananas, playing baseball again while being in my element of doing all the crazy and wacky things we do, I would have roasted you out of the room. But I continue to be eternally grateful for the time I’ve had with the Nanners.
From my start in the Breakfast Bowl, falling down on my first swing, being a Party Animal, covering a spectacular summer team and capping it all with another Breakfast Bowl championship, my time with the Bananas has been nothing short of incredible. The Savannah Bananas have truly changed the way I look at baseball.
A big thank you to Jesse and Emily Cole for the opportunity to be a part of this family over the last year.
To Banana Nation, you all are incredible. We can’t do what we do without you. I couldn’t be more grateful to have been a part of and to have witnessed an extraordinary year in BananaLand.