Kyle Luigs Prominent Place is Savannah Bananas History

Kyle Luigs has a prominent place in Savannah Bananas history. He is one of only three players that have spent three summers with the team. Kyle and his best friend, fellow three-time-Banana, Bill Leroy, are now poised to break Elliot Forde’s tenure record when they come back to play a fourth season in Grayson Stadium in the summer of 2021.
Elliot was a Banana from 2016 to 2018, his final season in yellow being the first for a couple guys from the University of North Georgia who weren’t sure if they were going to make it through the summer. Kyle and Bill we thick as thieves by the time they got the chance to play in Savannah. They had lived in neighboring four-person dorm rooms full of baseball players their freshman year. Sophomore year they ended up together in a room with two random roommates.
“They were two of the most interesting people we’ve ever met in our lives,” Kyle said, laughing. “They were really cool and great to live with, just super different from Bill and I.”
Kyle had played summer ball the year before in New Market, Virginia, about eight hours away from his home in Richmond Hill, Georgia. Bill had gone back to his hometown of Dublin, Georgia, to stay in shape and play as much as he could. When they got back to school, Michael Holder, a UNG assistant coach, asked if they wanted to play summer ball together and Kyle asked if they could play in Savannah. A couple weeks later, Holder emailed them temporary contracts with the Bananas. Kyle was guaranteed half the summer, Bill was guaranteed two games.
“I don’t know how he got us on the team,” Kyle said. “They had a stud D-1 catcher coming in but he couldn’t be there for Fan Fest and Opening Day, so Bill got to play in both.”
“It ended up being four of us who got temp contracts to come help the team out that first week,” Bill said. “I remember making jokes with the guys about who was gonna get cut first. I thought it was gonna be me.”
Bill ended up shining in the only two games he was promised and earned himself a new contract for the rest of the summer. Kyle started off the year with a bang, beating all the position players in a home run derby during Fan Fest. He was rock solid the whole way through the season on the mound too, pitching to the tune of a 3.63 ERA while striking out 23 batters in 22.1 innings.
“That first year there weren’t a lot of returning guys besides Elliot and Hunter (Phillips), so most of the team had no idea what they were getting into,” Kyle said.
“They were both phenomenal right off the bat,” Bananas head coach Tyler Gillum said. “Leroy ended up catching a lot for us and Luigs ended up throwing a lot for us, mostly out of the bullpen.”
It’s worth noting here that Gillum, his assistant coaches, and all the players I talked to throughout the 2020 season all affectionately mispronounce both Kyle and Bill’s last names. For Kyle, Luigs which should be pronounced LOO-EEGS is turned into LUGS. For Bill, Leroy which should be pronounced LA-ROY, is turned into LEE-ROY. Now you can re-read that quote again from Gillum if you want to really hear it in his voice. Okay back to the story.
Although they didn’t realize what they had signed up for, both guys were great on the field and off the field with all of the entertainment shenanigans Bananas players get involved in. They starred in a music video, Bill walked off the first ever game in kilts, and Kyle performed numerous choreographed dances in front of thousands of fans between innings. Plus, they were basically in Kyle’s hometown and got to live with his parents, Vickie and Chuck Luigs, about 25 minutes away from the stadium in Richmond Hill.
“It was a lot of fun having the guys with us that first summer,” Chuck said. “We knew Bill and his parents really well, I mean Bill was like our third son by that point. They were really busy with so many late nights from road trips and sleeping in right up to when they had to be to the field again. But on the few off days, we had fun golfing or grilling at the house.”
When they got back to school, they moved into an off-campus house in Dahlonega, Georgia, with another player on the team. As soon as the topic of summer ball came up again, there was no question where Kyle and Bill were going. They wanted another summer in Savannah, and this time they wouldn’t have to worry about temp contracts.
They started out the summer of 2019 by starring in an ‘Old Town Road’ music video which at the time would be the most watched Bananas video ever, netting over 430 thousand views on Facebook. They won the 2nd ever game in kilts and hosted the CPL All-Star game in Grayson Stadium. Kyle dazzled on the mound in his 2nd year in Savannah, only allowing 3 runs while striking out 12 batters in 20.2 innings of work for a 1.31 ERA. He worked hard with Bananas pitching coach Corey Pye to add a cutter to his repertoire of fastball, changeup, and curveball.
Besides the clear success Kyle had on the mound and the immense value he gave the Bananas as an entertainer, he was also now an important leader in the clubhouse. This was especially true for guys coming in who had no idea what they were getting into, like Kyle and Bill a year before. Nowhere was his impact more evident than on a shy freshman from the University of Kentucky.
“When I came to Savannah I looked to the guys who had been there the year before for how I should go about my business,” Alex Degen said on the ‘Savannah Bananas: Unpeeled’ podcast. “Kyle Luigs was the guy that I looked to most and I learned a lot from him on just how to flip the switch between being a baseball player and then all the other stuff off the field.”
Weeks into the 2019 season, his Kentucky teammates didn’t recognize the guy they saw dancing in videos all over Twitter and Facebook. They called him Alex “The Dancing” Degen. The nickname spread throughout Banana Land and anybody who has watched the Bananas play at all these past two summers will quickly name him as one of their favorite players. He gives Kyle a lot of credit for the way he was able to break out of his shell in Savannah.
Kyle and Bill once again were early to declare their desire to return to Savannah for the summer of 2020. They were going into their senior year at North Georgia and wanted to have one last wild summer in Grayson Stadium. But then their final season at UNG was cut short in early March due to the COVID-19 virus, and the Bananas season was in question.
“It was a lot of worrying about what would happen with the summer but also what can you do about it,” Kyle said. “It’s a global pandemic that you want to be treated right. We were just focused on staying sharp and getting better and making sure we were ready in case the season did happen.”
Of course, it did happen. The Bananas worked it out with the Macon Bacon and the Lexington County Blowfish to have a three-team division, only playing each other in the CPL. The season was pushed back to a July 1st start date, but there was going to be baseball in Savannah in 2020. All spring college athletes found out they would get another year of eligibility, and Kyle and Bill came to Savannah knowing they still had another year of college baseball in them after this.
As could have been predicted, it was a season unlike any other. Safety protocols required Grayson Stadium attendance to be cut in half. The Bananas players were split in half between the home and visiting locker rooms. Players had to go through a temperature check every day to get into Grayson Stadium. On top of that, the Bananas were pumping out content with the players like never before. Legendary videographer Mil Cannon was helping the Bananas produce a 10-part documentary on Bill’s third season with the team, which meant Bill and Kyle constantly had cameras on them throughout the summer. At the same time, Mil and the Bananas were producing a three-part documentary on the season as a whole. Kyle and Bill starred in another hit music video, a Baywatch video shot on Tybee Island, a scene from Miracle, and Tik Toks that were getting hundreds of thousands of views. As if this all wasn’t enough, Kyle was looking to transfer colleges because UNG didn’t have anything that he wanted to pursue in grad school.
“It was crazy because it felt like every free moment I had, I was spending researching teams and schools and talking to coaches,” Kyle said.
The Bananas had two players on the roster from Jacksonville State, Cole Frederick and Corley Woods. As soon as they heard that Kyle was looking to transfer, they told him they wanted him to come to Jacksonville. Two days later Kyle got a call from the Jacksonville State head coach, Jim Case.
“I talked to their coach for about 20 minutes and I knew that was where I wanted to go play,” Kyle said. “I really think to this day that if the Bananas hadn’t played this season, I wouldn’t be transferring to Jacksonville State. So it was really big for us to play for a lot of reasons, both personally and for the community, Savannah, and just sports fans that needed an escape from all the bad stuff that was going on in the world. It was really cool to be able to be a part of that.”
With everything going on around him, Kyle was once again doing stellar job of flipping the switch when he was on the field. His strikeouts skyrocketed compared to his first two summers, fanning 35 hitters while only giving up 5 walks and 13 hits with a 2.34 ERA in 23.1 innings of work.
“His cutter was really improved this summer,” Bananas pitching coach Corey Pye said. “Now he’s got two pitches he can throw really well for strikes and he’s throwing his fastball harder too. It’s been a lot of fun seeing his progression through the years.”
As solid as the season was as a whole for Kyle, his final week was mind simply boggling. He had two more future Jacksonville State teammates, Tre Kirklin and Isaiah Magwood, join the Bananas for the final playoff push and they saw Kyle at a nearly untouchable level on the mound. The last week of the season started with 4.2 shutout innings of relief in Luther Williams Field against the Bacon on Tuesday, August 11th. Then he was on the prestigious ‘Savannah Bananas: Unpeeled’ podcast with Berry Aldridge and I the following day, talking about his summer and his future in Jacksonville (yes, this was a shameless podcast plug). Three days later, on Saturday August 15th, the day before the CPL South Championship game against the Bacon, the Bananas had two games. They had to travel to Lexington County to play the Blowfish while the Catawba Valley Stars came to Grayson Stadium. It was going to be Bill’s last game of the season because he had to report to UNG on Sunday, and for all everyone knew it could be the last game of his historic Bananas career. Bill was going to stay in Grayson Stadium and play with a team of players Berry had recruited to play that one game, while the entire rest of the Bananas were traveling to Lexington County. Coach Pye was the only coach staying in Savannah, as Richmond Hill High School’s head coach and future Bananas head coach throughout the Breakfast Bowl, Scott Strickland, was coming in to take the helm for the night.
“When I found out that Bill was going to be all alone with a bunch of strangers on his last game of the season, and coach Strickland was managing the team, I knew I had to stay behind too,” Kyle said.
Scott was Kyle’s pitching coach for four years at Richmond Hill High School. Kyle made the varsity baseball team as a freshman just to pitch, but he was the team’s starting right fielder as well from his sophomore year on.
“He was an All-Region outfielder his junior and senior seasons,” Strickland said. “He could really hit but it was clear pitching was his future. I joked with him about throwing him in the lineup that Saturday and he got so excited, I was like ‘Oh my what did I do.’”
Just like that, Kyle was penciled into the DH spot, hitting 6th. Bill was the leadoff man and starting the game playing 2nd base. The plan was for Bill to play every position in the field by the end of the night, ending on the mound. Kyle had not swung a bat in a baseball game since his senior year at Richmond Hill. It was madness. I realized that I needed to talk to these guys while they attempted these feats. Kyle hitting for the first time in over four years. Bill playing positions he’s never played before. Of course, because they are Kyle and Bill, they were more than happy to throw mics on for me. They were both going to play the game with their phones in their back pockets, headphones in their ears, and mics snaked inside their jerseys.
The plan was just to talk to Kyle while he was hitting and check in on Bill every three innings. I turned Kyle’s mic on when he was on-deck in the bottom of the 1st inning. I never turned it off. Kyle turned into my on-field, player-color commentator. Bill’s mic was on for the majority of the game as well, only stopping for a couple innings when he needed to charge his headphones so he could hear us. It was the most fun I have ever had broadcasting a baseball game in my life. Kyle and Bill had lived together every school year and every summer for over three years now. Safe to say they had decent chemistry.
Kyle beat out an infield single in his first at-bat and ground out to 2nd in his next trip to the plate. The Bananas had fallen behind the Stars 6-2 heading into the 6th inning. Bananas right fielder Slade Taylor laced an RBI double down the right field line to make it a 6-3 game, bringing Kyle to the plate. Bill, as per usual, was doing his best to pick on Kyle in the box. Stars pitcher Michael Teague had curly hair down below his shoulders, quite similar to the magnificent mane of Bananas pitcher Tony Robie. Here’s the back and forth between Bill and Kyle.
Bill: “Don’t let Tony Robie’s little brother get you out.”
Kyle: “I gotta see him in here, I gotta put something on the right side at least, hopefully something in the air”
Bill: “Get on top of the plate!”
Kyle: “I am on top of the plate! I’ve got an open stance man!”
Bill: “Get some extension here.”
Biko: “Ohhhh! There’s a deep fly ball to right field! It is high! It is far! IT’S GONE!
Kyle had hit one of the highest and farthest home runs my eyes had ever seen. Bill is maniacally laughing throughout Kyle’s leisurely trip around the bases.
I scream, “Do you believe in miracles?!”
It’s pandemonium. It’s pure jubilation in the Bananas dugout, clearly picked up by our mics on Kyle and Bill.
Bill declares, “This is not real life.”
It didn’t feel like it. Kyle had hit a monstrous 2-run home run, in his first game as a batter since high school, mic’d up on the broadcast with his best friend in what might be their last baseball game they play together, and he high fived his high school pitching coach coming around third base. What else could you ask for?
Well I guess you could ask for a win.
The next batter, Justin Kelley, singles. The man after that, Christian Beasley, doubles down the left field line, tying the game at 6 apiece. The tie persists into the 9th inning when Kyle is put into right field for defense. Bill starts the inning at 3rd base, his headphones have died but his mic is on so me, Kyle, and everyone watching the broadcast can still hear him. He comes in to pitch with 2 outs. Kyle is making fun of everything he does on the mound. Bill is muttering encouragement to himself. He gives up a single to right, Kyle collects it and tosses it in. Bill gets the next guy to ground out to third. Phew.
The Bananas fail to score in the bottom of the 9th and per CPL rules the Stars start with runners on 1st and 2nd in the 10th. Rick Mitchell comes in to pitch and gets a double play and a groundout to get out unscathed. In the bottom of the 10th, Bill is placed on 2nd and Rick is placed on 1st to start the inning. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to load the bases, Slade Taylor singles to left, bringing in Bill for a 7-6 Bananas win. Everyone involved in the game is mystified at what just happened.
“Whenever I have to tell baseball stories, a lot of them are gonna come from the Bananas,” Kyle said. “That game, that night before the championship game is going to be told by me more than anything else.”
“That is the most unforgettable baseball experience I’ll ever have,” Bill said. “I mean Kyle was supposed to travel. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Everything that Jesse wants and talks about with Savannah was there that night.”
“It was so surreal,” Strickland said. “That thing was gone forever, from my perspective it was over the right-side lights and it looked like it was still going up when it disappeared. Man, what an experience.”
“That night will be remembered for the rest of my life,” Pye said. “That was the funnest night I’ve had coaching the Bananas since we’ve been there, and we only had 2 real bananas!”
“I’ve had a lot of people up here at school asking if I’m the guy on Tik Tok who was mic’d up with my roommate,” Kyle said. “Also, a lot of people asking if I was the pitcher who hit the home run. It’s crazy because this is a small town up here. If one person sees something it feels like everyone does.”
“Coach Pye called me a couple nights ago and said, ‘I’m still thinking about that game,’” Bill said, chuckling. “I mean that is truly something that we will all share together for the rest of our lives.”
“Scott told him you’re gonna come up in a situation where we need you,” Pye said. “We didn’t think he was gonna hit a home run! He came up and completely changed the game.”
“The stars aligning with my high school coach there, a lot of friends and family there and watching online,” Kyle said. “I never thought I would have an impact like that with a bat in my hands instead of a ball but anytime you can be remembered for the Bananas you take it.”
“If I win a World Series one day, I’ll say my best two coaching experiences are this and the one time we only had two guys on the Bananas,” Pye said.
Kyle’s grandmother had planned a family beach vacation week right after the Bananas season. His grandmother, parents, uncle, and his two cousins were all together watching the broadcast on the big TV in the beach house.
“They all couldn’t believe how funny Kyle was throughout the broadcast,” Kyle’s dad Chuck said. “And of course he had that big home run. It was a lot of fun, we were loud in the house that night.”
Kyle finished his unbelievable week with the CPL South Championship the next day. The Bacon jumped out to a 6-0 lead on Bananas starter Joshua South, and Kyle came in trying to put out the fire with a man on 2nd and one out in the 4th inning. He stranded the man and proceeded to throw 4.2 shutout innings of relief against the Bacon for the 2nd time that week, striking out 5, walking none, and only allowing one hit. He allowed the Bananas to bounce back, as they got it to a 6-5 game with the tying run on base in the 9th before a hot shot to short turned into a season ending double-play. Of course, Kyle wanted the championship more than anything, but he was certainly not at fault in the Bananas defeat. Combining Kyle’s two relief appearances against the Bacon that week gives him 9.1 scoreless innings, 11 strikeouts, 3 hits, and no walks.
“That was awesome getting to come in and throw 4.2 scoreless innings and get us so close to winning a championship,” Kyle said.
“We literally played the same team a million times that season,” Pye said. “They knew what they were getting and he still did what he did, that’s the most impressive part.”
Kyle is graduating from UNG with his degree in exercise science in December, then he heads to Jacksonville State for the spring semester to pursue a masters in sports marketing. He’s moving from D2 baseball up to D1 and he won’t be playing baseball with his best friend Bill for the first time since the summer after their freshman year.
“It will be sad leaving Bill and all the guys I’ve been playing with for four years now but I’m really excited to see what I can do at Jacksonville State in a new league and a new area,” Kyle said.
“Yea It’s gonna be sad without him,” Bill said, “but we’ll both be busy playing this spring and then we should be together with the Bananas in the summer.”
If all goes as planned, Kyle and Bill will be the only two Bananas players to have played on the team for four summers. It’s been an incredible, wild, and at times inconceivable ride, but it doesn’t look like it is over yet.
“It’s been phenomenal being able to coach Kyle over these last three summers,” Gillum said. “He’s had so many big moments and has played so many roles for us whether it was pitching in the 4th, or the 6th, or the 9th he’s all game, and he doesn’t just accept the role but thrives there.”
“He’s a great kid to be around and a great guy to coach,” Pye said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with him over the years and I’m really proud of his growth as a pitcher.”
“He’s a special kid,” Strickland said. “He’s one of those guys you dream to coach. He doesn’t want to disappoint people that he cares about and that builds a relationship that lasts a lifetime. If my son were to grow up and be like Kyle, I would be a happy man.”
“One of the highlights of my life right now is watching Kyle playing ball,” Chuck said. “I had a blast driving around with him in travel ball and I’m still having a blast watching him play today.”
Of course, Chuck would love to see Kyle play at the next level, but there is a unique enjoyment he’ll get from watching Kyle play for the Bananas one more time.
“It’s pretty hilarious seeing Kyle out there doing the entertainment stuff,” Chuck said. “The best is the 9th inning stuff when he has to take his shirt off and do pushups and all because we can tell he’s embarrassed but he’ll always go out there and do it when they ask him.”
The dream for Kyle is to have his name called in the 2021 MLB draft, which would still give him over a month of games with the Bananas to start his summer.
“I hate to say it mom and dad,” Kyle said, “but if I get drafted in about 6 months that whole school business is going out the window and I’m playing baseball for as long as I can.”
I don’t think mom and dad would hate that at all.

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