The History and Future of Banana Ball

Written by Biko Skalla:

Like most great things that happen in Bananaland, it started with a simple, “What if?” Bananas owner Jesse Cole was talking with his father Kerry about his team. Just a couple years into existence, the Bananas had already shattered any and all expectations that the good folks in Savannah could have possibly had. They had broken the collegiate summer baseball attendance record in both seasons, had highlights and feature stories on a plethora of national media platforms, and were pulling fans from across the country to see the show in Grayson Stadium. That is if they could get a ticket, as the Bananas sold out 17 of their 25 games in the inaugural season, and have sold out every game since, with a waitlist for tickets north of 10,000 people. 

While this had been an absolute delight to Jesse, his wife Emily, and everyone in the Bananas front office, a big part of the team’s continued success was improving each and every aspect of a fan’s experience. Although the stadium was jam packed for the first couple hours of every game, when it came to the 8th and 9th innings, where the show between the lines was most exciting, Jesse would look into the stands and see some empty seats where none could be found earlier. While the Bananas’ ever evolving entertainment kept leveling up, the game of baseball would always be a nine inning affair that more than often takes three to four hours to complete. Jesse wanted to make the actual game at the center of it all quicker and more exciting. 

“It’s crazy cause it was just this ‘what if’ idea,” Jesse said with a smile. “We always said we were gonna change the game of baseball but we never thought we were going to actually change the game and the rules.”

The Bananas had successfully changed how baseball was viewed in Savannah. They had created a whacky, fun, and fan’s first experience that brought in fans who didn’t give a darn about the sport. But no matter how incredible the entertainment, people would still leave before the end of ball games. So Jesse called his dad to talk shop and brainstorm ways they could keep butts in the seats for the whole game, so all the fans could experience walk offs, exciting defensive plays to secure Nanners wins, and of course the Party Plaza at the end of the night to get the full Bananas experience. 

“We were talking about ways to combat blowouts and he said, ‘Jesse what if every inning was match play and whoever won the inning got a point,’” Jesse remembered. “And I said, ‘That’s not a bad idea dad!’” 

Every inning counts. All credit goes to Kerry Cole for creating the first rule of Banana Ball. 

“We said, ‘Alright that’s a good start, what else could we do?’”

 Jesse brought the idea of a variation to baseball built around this new scoring system to his head coach Tyler Gillum and a variety of Bananas front office members. Pretty soon a handful of rules had developed to try and highlight the more exciting parts of baseball while also countering the slower aspects of the game that tend to bore your average fan. 

“It started as a conversation, where if we tweaked some rules, how can the game be better, how can it be faster and how can it be more entertaining,” Gillum remembered. “That was kind of our north star for creating this game.” 

From a two hour time limit, to batters not being able to step out of the box and the full outlawing of bunting and mound visits, their new game started to take shape. With a set of rules in place, it was time to give the sport a name. Berry Aldridge, who was an intern in 2016 and progressed all the way up to vice president of the Bananas by 2020 and is currently the baseball operations coordinator, remembered a plethora of names being discussed.

“We always called it Banana Ball but we also kicked around a million other possible names, the one we pursued the most probably being ‘Show Ball,’” Berry told me. “But we finally were like, ‘Why are we fighting this? It’s a good name. It’s what people will probably end up calling it even if we pick something else, and it was kind of tongue and cheek to the people who say we don’t play real baseball.’ You know people may say, ‘They don’t play real baseball in Savannah they play Banana Ball,’ and we say, ‘Hell yeah we do!’” 

With an official name to accompany the set of rules there was one final step that had to be taken.

“We could talk about it until we were blue in the face, but we had to test it,” Jesse said. 

So Jesse called up one of his favorite coaches from college, Jason Burke, who had been an assistant at Wofford when Jesse pitched there and now was the head coach at Lander University, to see if he would let his kids participate in the Banana Ball experiment.

“They thought I was crazy but then proceeded to say, ‘Why not?’” 

Then Jesse called his alma mater Wofford and set up the first ever Banana Ball game to be played there. On the day the game was supposed to be played for the first time ever, the rain came, and Banana Ball’s debut would unfortunately have to wait.

“That was not a great omen for what we were trying to do,” Jesse said, chuckling.

There was no time for despair though, as the next day they were scheduled to head to Lander for another test. So Jesse, Emily, Gillum, Jared Orton the team president, Berry Aldridge who at the time was Director of Tickets but was really there because of his experience as a former college baseball player, and Ben Sheffield the team’s lead videographer, all headed up to Greenwood, South Carolina, to see Banana Ball played for the first time. After a quick rundown of the rules, and some general discussion about how pitchers should work as quickly as possible for Banana Ball to be played as it was intended, the guys played ball, and completed a nine inning game in 99 minutes. Possibly the greatest sign of all that this game might actually work came from something Emily noticed.

“There were some of the girlfriends that were at the practice and they were doing homework,” Jesse said. “They stopped doing their homework, and Emily was like, ‘Jesse they were watching this,’ and I was like, ‘That’s a good sign, that’s a really good sign!’” 

There was a pitcher at one point throwing a pitch every seven seconds, making it so fielders basically never left their crouched stance of anticipation. 

“The craziest thing we saw that first night of Banana Ball was a batter struck out in 12 seconds,” Gillum said with a chuckle. “I think it really worked because their head coach was so excited for us to come and try out these new rules. Those guys were really fired up about it. I don’t know if we could have had a better first impression of Banana Ball than how Lander played it in the fall.”

Every person I talked to who was there remembers feeling like they were on the edge of their seats for the entire hour and 39 minutes of game time. As much of a success as it seemed to be to the spectators though, Banana Ball wouldn’t work if the players didn’t enjoy it themselves as well.

“They said it was the most fun they had ever had playing baseball,” Jesse said through a hearty smile. 

It turned out a testimonial after the game wasn’t necessary to know the players liked the game.

“You could really sense the excitement and the speed and the fun that these guys are having while they’re playing,” Jared remembered. “They were sprinting out to the field and making fun of each other when someone stepped out of the box and they’re screaming at each other, you’ve got a pitcher throwing a ball every 5 seconds basically, and you kind of look up and we’re in the sixth inning and we’ve been playing for like an hour.” 

As a four year college baseball player himself, Berry was well aware of how this experiment could have gone if the players hadn’t bought in.

“I can’t thank the guys at Lander enough because it would have been easy for them to disregard this as silly nonsense,” Berry said. “But they sold out and had a great time and showed us just how much fun our new game could be.”

With the realization that this game they had up to this point only been creating rules for behind the scenes actually did exactly what they had planned on it to do, Jared was struck with an analogy that Jesse had given for why they should try to create Banana Ball in the first place.

“Jesse always compared it to as if we were selling hot dogs,” Jared recollected. “If your hot dog, you know your main thing, isn’t great, then all the condiments, all the mustard, the relish, the ketchup, the chili, the cheese, all that is worthless if the main product isn’t great. What we realized that day is Banana Ball can stand by itself if it needs to, but of course when we add all the showmanship, all the hijinks, all the skits, all the jokes, that just takes the entire experience to a place that we’ve never seen before in a baseball game.”

As incredibly successful as the first Banana Ball game was, it also offered a myriad of tweaks that could improve the young sport. The Bananas brass realized defenses needed a set plan for how to attack the walk turned sprint. On top of that, they tested the first ever Showdowns, which are baseball’s version of a penalty shootout in soccer or hockey. Just the pitcher, catcher, and batter would be on the field. A mano a mano battle between the man on the mound and the man in the box. If the hitter put the ball in play they would have to race all the way back to home to score a point before the pitcher could run, get the ball, and fire it to the catcher. 

But they also tested if having an infielder to aid the defense would increase the chance of exciting plays at the plate. Jesse got the inspiration for the rule from Rube Wadell, a pitcher from the turn of the 20th century, who would take all of his fielders off the field when he was feeling extra frisky on the bump, (Satchel Paige was known to do this later too). 

“I just thought that was the coolest thing,” Jesse said, beaming. “I mean what showmanship! Talk about entertainment!” 

There were a few more tests and minor tweaks over the next year and a half, but the game played at Lander in the fall of 2018 was very similar to the game that would be played in Savannah to kickoff the 2020 season. The novel COVID-19 virus of course would make the 2020 season unlike any before it. Unlike the vast majority of teams around the country, the Bananas pledged to play ball at half capacity, and with the help of the Macon Bacon and Lexington County Blowfish they had a modest three-team league to play in. Instead of starting in late May and ending in the first week of August as per usual, the season would kick off in July and push into the middle of August. Before the CPL South began play however, Jesse and company decided it was high time to throw the condiments on the hot dog and see what the fans thought.

“That becomes the true test,” Jared told me. “You can practice and experiment with it so many times but it doesn’t really make sense until you put it in front of fans, and more importantly a mass number of fans. That’s where you realize what all the people love, but also potentially what people will find confusing.” 

As much as they tried to educate the fans through social media, at the gate, leading up to first pitch, and throughout the game, Berry was well aware that people were still going to be lost at times.

“We knew that no matter what people were going to be confused,” Berry said. “All we could do was prepare the fans as best we could for what their eyes were about to see, and then walk them through what just happened when the inevitable Banana Ball mayhem occurred. We knew it would take a few times of people seeing it to understand it, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened over the past couple years.”

Bill LeRoy and Kyle Luigs were both in their third year as Bananas players. They remembered practicing a majority of the rules and scenarios briefly the day before the scrimmage, but that was really just a once through of it all and they basically decided to let it eat on game day and see how it goes.

The team was split into two sides, green vs yellow. Unripe vs ripe. Ben Anderson, the Bananas center fielder and leadoff man, faced second year Banana Ryan Kennedy, and was promptly plunked. So up stepped Bill with a man on and nobody out. After one batter where Banana Ball rules had no effect on the at-bat, Bill was ready to give the fans their first taste of the future. He would walk, which of course meant a sprint around the bases, and with Ben on third base from a steal and a wild pitch, the catcher John Michael Faile was hesitant to start the necessary throw around the field. Baseball instincts told John Michael he shouldn’t give up the ball with a runner 90 feet away from scoring, but a walk in Banana Ball means every fielder outside the pitcher and catcher have to touch the ball before the defenders can try to tag anyone out. Bill was already to first base when the cacophony of screams for John Michael to start the throw around the field finally made the catcher realize stopping Ben from scoring was a lost cause and he had to get rid of the ball. The hesitation, plus a rather sloppy toss around the infield, gave Bill enough time to make it all the way around the bases. The first Banana Ball walk was to none other than Bill LeRoy, and it turned into a home run. I’m not sure half the fans in the park knew what had happened but they were on their feet cheering for the madness that had just occurred.

“The place was going crazy as I raced around the bases,” Bill remembered. “I gave the people a big celebration when I ran across home and then went pretty wild with the boys. It was easily the most exciting walk of my life.”

You can see Bill’s historic walk at the 3:30 mark of episode three of Behind the Mask…

There were a few more walks that turned into triples and home runs, but as the game went on both sides improved their walk/sprint defense and continued to warm up to the other aspects of the game that differed from traditional baseball. There were no more than three guys who stepped out of the box and had strikes called on them before everybody realized they needed to drill into their heads that the box was the only place to be for hitters. Bill tried to bunt the ball in a staged event and was promptly tossed by home plate umpire Seth Strickland so the fans realized the gravity of the ban on bunting. The folks in Grayson got to see the first ever showdowns, and we realized that all hitters needed to do was put the ball medium depth into the outfield to make it around the bags and earn an all important point, which led to us finally deciding a fielder on the infield grass was necessary for the showdown. All in all though, the fans seemed to love the faster paced, more action packed version of baseball, whether they understood everything or anything that happened on the field.

“What we realized from that game is we’ve got something that is really exciting to see,” Jared said, “we’ve just gotta keep educating them over and over and over and over again on what they’re actually watching.”

There would be plenty more opportunities for the Bananas faithful to take in Banana Ball games. With only two other teams playing in the CPL South, there was room to add a few non-league games to the schedule. The Catawba Valley Stars came down from North Carolina to play a few times and the North Florida Black Sox came north to play once, but the Bananas wanted to throw another team into the mix too. With so few teams playing because of COVID, the Bananas did what only the Bananas could do. They created an entirely new team, called the Savannah Party Animals, to play three games against the Bananas throughout the summer. The project was spearheaded by Berry, who handled everything from the uniform creation to putting an actual team together, mostly from local collegiate baseball talent. 

The two teams first clash was a baseball game, which the incredibly talented Bananas team was able to win 6-3, which was actually a testament to the team Berry was able to create. With the Cape Cod League and the majority of other summer collegiate leagues shutdown, including half the CPL, the talent pool for the 2020 summer was stronger than ever. But Berry’s Party Animals could hang, which meant they could try to play Banana Ball the next time the two teams did battle. 

Once again Banana Ball’s parade was rained on, as both teams would have to put on a tarp sliding show instead of the scheduled game. But there was still one more meeting to be had between the two crosstown rivals, (sure it was still less than a month since the first time the two teams faced but the Party Animals came in with some serious juice and chutzpah, warranting a young rivalry). One day before Kyle Luig’s improbable towering home run against the Catawba Valley Stars, and two days before the Bananas would vie for a CPL South Championship in Macon, the Bananas and Party Animals played their first ever Banana Ball game against each other.

It was a great contest from start to finish, with the Bananas earning four walk offs in eight innings of action, and taking a 4-1 lead into showdowns. Cole Frederick took the field but Christian Dearman didn’t need him as he snagged a three-pitch strikeout while throwing two strikes and a ball, (strike one was called for the batter leaving the box). Juan Colato was the first man Gillum sent to the dish and he came as close to ending the game as physically possible…

It was a wow moment. Juan had great speed, he was 14 for 15 in stolen base attempts that summer, and he had put the ball to the left field wall. But what looked like Olympic speed in the outfield, plus a perfect throw, relay, and tag at the plate all combined to nab Juan by a fraction. It was everything Jesse had ever imagined for a Showdown.

“I loved the idea of it truly being just pitcher vs hitter,” Jesse told me, “but I think even ole’ Rube Waddell could appreciate that one fielder made a really positive impact on the excitement and action you can get from a Showdown.”

The Bananas finished up the 2020 season with a nine game exhibition series against the Bacon, dubbed the Breakfast Bowl, and took the series seven games to two. There was little time to sit back and celebrate the immense success that the 2020 season had been though, as the Bananas quickly announced Banana Ball was hitting the road the following spring, and requests for the Nanners to visit cities came from around the globe. A top five cities list was formed, with Mobile, Alabama coming out on top as the winner and therefore the destination of the One City World Tour.

The Bananas brass would have one more Banana Ball game to to fine tune anything that still needed adjusting before creating their Premier Team. On November 13th of 2020 they had the second annual Fansgiving Game, and once again Berry flexed his general manager muscles in putting both teams together. This time it would be Bananas vs Pilgrims.

It was another fiercely competitive game, with the Pilgrims jumping out to a 2-1 lead and the Bananas responding with points in four straight innings to earn a 5-2 victory in seven innings…

Feeling more and more bullish about their new game, it was time to fully set sights on the Spring Series in 2021. The Bananas signed Nate Fish, AKA the King of Jewish Baseball, who has one of the most unique journeys through baseball you could ever imagine, to lead their new barnstorming squad. He brought his partner in crime, Adam Virant, who runs the largest baseball academy in New York City, down to Savannah in February of 2021 for the Premier Team tryout. Adam Moreau, an assistant coach at Eckerd College, earned the head coaching job of the Party Animals mostly from the incredible energy and baseball knowledge he showed just a month and a half earlier as a guest instructor at the Bananas Winter Camp. Over 70 players showed up from around the country, aided by Dallas Braiden covering hotel rooms for 10 Bananas hopefuls and Josh Reddick covering another 20.

The tryout was a chance for players to show both their skill on the field, but also their ability to entertain. They had a Tik Tok station with Kara Heater and Savannah Alaniz, the Nanners’ marketing queens, and an interview station with yours truly to make sure they were the right fit culture wise. In the end, 34 players were picked to be the first ever professional Bananas and Party Animals players for their combination of talent and personality, with the 35th being a special owner’s addition to the team, Dakota Albritton, who showed the miraculous ability to hit a baseball and run to first while on four foot high stilts…

It was quite a cast of players…

Before we knew it the Bananas were strapping on kilts and the Party Animals were suiting up in their black and pink for the first game of the Premier Series on March 13th of 2021. With the legendary Savannah St. Patty’s Day celebration cancelled due to COVID, the celebration would have to happen in Grayson Stadium. It was another terrific showing of what Banana Ball can be, as the teams burned through eight innings and three rounds of showdowns in under two and half hours, with the Bananas winning on a Chris Vasquez liner off the right field wall in Showdowns…

The buzz of this faster and more exciting version of baseball started to grow around the nation. Jason Gay wrote an article on Banana Ball in the Wall Street Journal that came out between games one and two of the Spring Series. Then Jimmy O’Brien, AKA Jomboy, who had taken the baseball world by storm over the past few years with his innovative and hilarious breakdowns of baseball, (or any sporting event for that matter), came down with his right hand man Jake Storiale to experience Banana Ball in person for game two. Unfortunately with Jomboy and Jake came a reoccurring theme in Banana Ball’s young story. The rain. But they were able to get the game in, which ended up being a five inning slog, with the Party Animals winning 4-2 after the maximum five rounds of Showdowns. The important takeaways from the game: More was learned about the pitching Banana Ball requires. The Party Animals evened the Spring Series at a game apiece. Jomboy, Jake, and their crew had a blast…

From a content perspective on our ends, we wanted to view the game from a point of view we hadn’t ever before, which was through a player on each side…

With both Savannah games in the books, the guys had a few days of practice and then packed everything up and shipped off to Mobile, Alabama. With my wealth of U-Haul driving experience through the friendly streets of New York City, I was tasked with getting the truck with all of our equipment down to the Gulf, with a small van of front office folks to follow southwest. Two buses, taking the rest of the nearly 100 person cast and crew caravanned the eight hour drive through Georgia and Alabama the next day. Hank Aaron Stadium was a beauty to take in. It had Hank Aaron’s childhood home attached to the exterior of the first base side. The scene was set for an experience unlike any other. Now we just needed the fans to make it happen.

Something to keep in mind, is in Savannah the show really kicks off at 5:30pm with the players, band, dancing first base coach, Man Nanas, Banana Nanas, and owner parading through the folks lined up ready to storm Grayson Stadium’s gates. That is something that has developed and grown and been established over the first five years of the Bananas existence. There was no training for the fans in Mobile to be ready to rock and roll an hour and a half before game time. But they were ready. Boy were they ready.

“It’s one of the most exciting moments of every game for me because as soon as 5:30 hits we’re all on stage through the Party Plaza celebration at the end of the night,” Jesse told me. “But in Mobile I had no idea at all what we were going to encounter when we went out to kick off the show. I was beyond blown away when we got out there. The fans were lined up for what seemed like a mile and there were so many kids. The people down there were so ready to be entertained and brought so much energy to the stadium. I knew it was going to be a special couple days as soon as I saw the fans.”

The best way I can describe Mobile was that it felt like a movie. I had a bird’s eye view from the back of the press box of the sprawling line that truly did span thousands of feet to the woods at the end of the parking lot and had to dogleg back towards the highway. I could barely believe my eyes. And once the fans filled the Hank, the energy felt like it vibrated my soul. It was a surreal and euphoric experience that could only truly be felt in person. What made it so special is that everyone felt it.

“How fired up the folks in Mobile were for Banana Ball and everything else we brought with it was incredible,” Jared reminisced. “We had no idea what we were getting into but they all showed us that fans outside of Savannah can be just as wild and into it all as the amazing fans we have at home.”

“That was a powerful scene in Mobile,” Berry said. “It was so reassuring to see how much fun and how entertained the fans were down there by a game that I’m sure most of them didn’t really fully understand. And seeing so many new Bananas fans catch on so quickly to all of our promotions and shenanigans we do, it was a really cool and I think an important experience for us.”

Even though I said you couldn’t fully understand the magnitude of the success that Mobile was from afar, Gillum got a good idea from the content we were pumping out.

Seeing Mobile sell out both nights and the fans having so much fun there, it was just awesome to see,” Gillum told me. “It fired me up seeing how many people were so into this thing in an entirely different state. It had a full Globetrotters of baseball feel to it watching from Phoenix.”

That’s the first comparison most people make when they see the Bananas show and factor in the new barnstorming aspect of it. Jesse resists the comparison for a few reasons, but none more than this: the game isn’t scripted. Both teams want to be the star of show and will use any competitive advantage they can find to get a victory. That was never more evident than night one in Mobile, when the Party Animals spoiled the show, winning 5-0 and giving them a two games to one lead in the series…

Night two offered a much tighter affair, with the Bananas clinging to a 2-1 lead going into Showdowns. The two teams traded blows and were locked in a 3-3 battle before the Bananas scored, got a Showdown Shutdown, and scored again to win 5-3, ending the Spring Series in a 2-2 tie…

The One City World Tour was a smashing success. Two-time World Series winner Jake Peavy had suited up in Bananas uniform as an honorary coach both nights.

Jomboy and Jake had given Banana Ball a national spotlight, especially in the baseball world, that had oodles of new fans clamoring to find out what was up with this new fast paced, exciting take on baseball. And now there were a handful of games to analyze for more fine tuning of Banana Ball rules.

“We learned more about the importance of strike throwers in Banana Ball, because the walk/sprints are incredibly exciting when you have a few of them every game, but if a guy loses the zone they can become redundant,” Jesse told me. “And then we learned the worst thing that can happen is in a showdown, when you want contact so something really interesting can happen, you really don’t want a walk/sprint.”

All in all, Banana Ball hitting the road for the first time did exactly what the Bananas wanted it to do. It grew the game, and created even more ravenous fans who were dying to see it played in the city closest to them. While the front office started thinking about what the second Banana Ball tour would look like, there was a full summer of college ball to crush first.

Gillum was bringing back one of the most veteran filled teams the Coastal Plain League had ever seen. Highlighted by four-year Bananas, Bill LeRoy and Kyle Luigs, it also boasted three year Bananas, Dan Oberst, Ryan Kennedy, and Christian Dearman. With a slew of guys in their second summer in Savannah, and the rest of the squad filled out by an incredibly talented group of Bananas rookies, the team started a franchise best 11-0, and never really slowed down, cruising to a 40-10 overall record while capturing the Bananas second ever Petitt Cup Championship.

While all 50 games played were baseball, the guys did find a free night on July 3rd to welcome the Catawba Valley Stars into Grayson for a friendly exhibition game of Banana Ball. It felt like there were 25 insane things that happened in just the one night, as the Bananas captured a 3-2 victory in a nine inning affair that took less than an hour and 55 minutes. Most notably, Nick Clarno smashed a couple Banana Cream Sodas over his had and then broke his bat in half right before getting new lumber and stepping in the box. As you can expect, it broke the internet with 4.2 million views and counting on Tik Tok on a repost of the original which was well over 3 million views when it had to be taken down…


we do not care 👹 give us more dares… we’re ready for ‘em. #savannahbananas #baseballboys #dare #fyp #shotgun #bananacreamsoda

♬ We do not care – Jq

Clarno also went 2-3, both hits being inning walk offs, and he fielded a groundball at first with his barehands because his glove was in his mouth. Why was his glove in his mouth you ask? Because he was positive his buddy Kyle was gonna strike the batter out. It was also the second Banana Ball game that Nick, Kyle, Bill, and a host of other Bananas’ vets had experienced, and the difference a year of refining the rules made was palpable.

“The scrimmage we had in 2020 was pretty hectic and confusing at times but this game was so smooth and so much fun,” Bill said. “Because we fully understood the rules we could really let loose and we all just had the time of our lives.”

“It was a scheduled start for me and going in I wasn’t sure I wanted my start to come in a Banana Ball game but it went as well as any start I could have had,” Kyle told me. “I was throwing some balls underhand and tipping guys off on pitches and stuff. The game absolutely flew by and it was nonstop action the whole way through.”

Bill and Kyle have since signed on to lead the Bananas Academy and play for the Bananas professionally this upcoming spring. This game against the stars changed a lot of their thoughts on Banana Ball, and has them rearing to play some more.

Another important thing to note from this game is the fellow in the colorful striped shirt in the background of the Banana Cream Soda smashing Tik Tok. That’s Stan Grossfeld, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist with the Boston Globe. Stan was there to cover Banana Ball and as well as Jesse, a Scituate, Massachusetts native who was starting to turn some serious heads in the sports world.

I was intrigued with Jesse Cole because he was a pitcher and quite a good one for Situate High School, so there was sort of the local angle there,” Stand told me. “But I was more intrigued with how he put this thing together and the genius of it all. Here’s a guy who grew up around here and he combines Walt Disney, Bill Veeck, and P. T. Barnum? I mean those really are the three guys of all time who know how to entertain people. So I was intrigued with him and his eccentric ways.” 

So what did the great Stan Grossfeld find when he got to pull back the curtain?

“The whole experience with the Savannah Bananas was a wonderful one. Everyone’s got great people skills. You get down there and everyone looks you in the eyes, even the ballplayers. Everyone was really engaging and really into it, I mean these people like their jobs. And Jesse’s enthusiasm is just contagious. You know we’re trained to be, at least I am, to be skeptical, so I’m looking to see if this guy’s a phony but you just can’t fake it through an eight hour day, you would see something. And the day I went, I don’t know if you remember, but at lost of things went wrong. There was a horrible freaking thunderstorm that wasn’t forecasted and put the infield underwater a little bit and they had an electrical blackout too which I thought was impossible to do. And yet through all that there was no panic and I was just like, how did you guys… I mean everything went wrong and thing still turned out so right.”

While it was heartwarming to hear that Stan’s day full of minor disasters didn’t take away from the experience, what I really wanted to hear was his opinion on the game that somehow did end up happening.

“Well the rule that got the most reaction from me is where if there’s a foul ball in the stands and a fan catches it the batter’s out. People in Boston love that, big league ballplayers and everything you know.”

Duly noted, thank you Boston!

“The time limit is great, and the no walks is great, that’s really fun. A lot of the rules are just fun and the entertainment is amazing. A lot of it is scripted but you can’t script some of the things I saw like the guy who proposed to his girlfriend in the stands. You know they do that in Fenway Park but then they don’t send the players up to serenade her, you know. I mean this woman’s face, I mean she was flipping out. I think the game is still a work in progress but if Major League Baseball was smart they’d take the best of it.”

And here’s the most impressive thing that Stan saw, which I know will warm the heart of one Jesse Cole.

“As a trained observer I stood there and looked out at 4,000 fans and I didn’t see any yawning, you know any fidgeting, I didn’t see any people leaving, and that is not the case with four hour baseball games where they charge exorbitant amounts of money and you can get a stinker of a game where the kids wanna go home in the 2nd or 3rd inning and then you’ve gotta bribe them with you know popcorn and hotdogs and ice cream and you run out of stuff to bribe them with and then you gotta go home. So the affordable thing is great for fans, the nonstop action is great for fans, and the baseball isn’t Major League caliber but it’s not bad I mean there’s some good players there. So I just think it’s the epitome of fun.”

And there’s your breakdown of the last Banana Ball game to happen before the Banana Ball World Tour kicks off in March of 2021. Stan, I think it’s safe to say you’re welcome back whenever you would like my man.

To get a local writers perspective I talked to Nathan Dominitz, who is a sports writer for the Savannah Morning News and has covered the Bananas for years. He’s watched Banana Ball grow from an experiment to becoming a game worthy of a tour, and gets why it has caught fire.

The rules, as Eric Byrnes said the other day, are just meant to increase the speed and excitement of the game,” Nathan reminded me. “It’s still baseball with a bunch of twists to it. You still have to hit, pitch, run, and catch. But it’s so great for this next generation where it seems like attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. When you have less time between pitches and all there’s less time for fans to lose interest.”

Surprisingly enough, and this is something I have experienced alongside plenty of Bananas fans who have told me similar stories, the Bananas have kind of soured Major League Baseball a bit for Nathan.

“I went to a Braves game this summer and I said to my wife and daughter that I’ve gotten used to the Savannah Bananas and this is just a lot slower,” Nathan said. “And I’ve grown up watching so much baseball, it’s crazy that I actually prefer the Bananas version of a night at the ballpark now. There’s just so much downtime at an MLB game. The Bananas fan experience is noticeably different than the Braves even though the park was packed and it’s a really cool new stadium they’ve built. It’s just a different price and a different pace.”

I couldn’t believe my ears when Nathan told me that last line. “A different price and a different pace.” You may see that on a billboard one day.

The biggest takeaway rules wise in Banana Ball from the game this past summer was the Bananas were winning 3-0 going into the 8th inning, and on pace to finish the game under the two hour time limit. That meant the Stars could only get two more points, were destined to lose 3-2 if it didn’t go to Showdowns, which is exactly what ended up happening.

“We designed Banana Ball so that you could play nine innings of baseball in under two hours, but this triggered a little loophole in the rules,” Jesse said. “Now you could have teams trying to stall to reach the two hour time limit to get to Showdowns so they have a chance to win, which obviously defeats the entire purpose of the game. But that’s also what is so much fun about Banana Ball is the game is still evolving, and I’m pretty sure everyone knows we’re more than open to tweaking rules where we think it will improve the entertainment and quality of our game.”

So now we prepare for the next step in the young life of the game of Banana Ball. Seven different cities across four different states will be graced by the Bananas this coming spring, with former MLB player and MLB Network personality Eric Byrnes as the team’s manager. From the first ever experimental game in the fall of 2018, to the first time the Bananas played the game in the summer of 2020, to the first time it hit the road in the spring of 2021, and now the tour takes another major step forward.

“I’ve absolutely been blown away with how quickly it has blown up,” Berry said. “I think it just takes time and some really aggressive content and like connection building, but once you do that it really only takes one straw, and I think our straw was Jomboy coming and covering it. Now our reputation and Banana Ball’s reputation is proceeding us, and if you’re not aware of what we do in the summer, a lot of people think Banana Ball is what we do exclusively now.”

That is something that every single member of the Bananas front office can relate to.

“One of the cool things that happened this past summer was fans from around the country were showing up to Savannah expecting to see Banana Ball,” Gillum said with a chuckle. “These people flew here, booked hotel rooms, expecting to see Banana Ball, and I thought it was really cool to see how many people out there are excited about this thing and want to see it.”

Of course Banana Ball won’t be for every fan. You’ll find folks on social media arguing that they don’t like this one bit. Jared is happy to see discourse on both sides of the issue.

I think Banana Ball is going to continue to attract a lot of people who are looking for this refreshing take on baseball,” Jared said. “You see incredible former Major Leaguers like Eric Byrnes and Jake Peavy getting into it. Some people will think this whole thing is blasphemous, and that’s okay. The exciting thing is we’ll be in the center of the discussion, and it will be the right thing for a lot of people and it won’t be the right thing for a lot of people.”

Many people ask me what’s next for Banana Ball, and obviously I think a lot of it hinges on what happens this coming spring, although in general I like to quote the great Michael Jordan in saying, “The ceiling is the roof.” One thing we will have in the spring is the addition of some terrific stats, like Minutes Per Inning for pitchers, (a stat that Jesse correctly pointed out Greg Maddux would have dominated), as well as Showdown Shutdowns for pitchers and Showdown Slams for hitters, (that name is still being workshopped.) While all this will add another dimension to the game, that as the broadcaster especially I cannot wait to be in the middle of, there’s also the big picture of the future, and I can tell you someone who has a distinct plan for that.

“I was a bat boy for the Red Sox as a kid, got to pitch in Fenway during college, and now I want to sellout Fenway as an adult,” Jesse declared.

As exciting as 37,731 raving Bananas fans packing Fenway is to a lifelong baseball fanatic like myself, I had to check with the expert to see if it’s in the cards.

To pull in Fenway you need the big names cause Boston’s a celebrity obsessed city,” Stan told me. “I like Jesse’s attitude, he goes for the grand slam, and people are looking for something different and the Bananas have that curiosity factor. But he needs Manny in the lineup or something to sellout Fenway. I know he would like that.”

Consider the invitation open, Manny.

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