Savannah Bananas Debut Banana Ball to Audience
Photos Courtesy of the Savannah Bananas
Team owner Jesse Cole, who is at all games in a bright yellow tuxedo, believes this was the ideal time to play for the first time in front of a live audience. Due to COVID-19, the club had to become creative with things at the ballpark, even turning away 50,000 fans due to capacity restrictions at Grayson Stadium.
“The first time the Bananas played the game with actual players was two years ago against a few different colleges. The college players said it was the most fun ever playing baseball; from that time, we began testing it, and tonight we tested it in front of our fans. When we put the game on sale in May, it shut down our servers and sold out in minutes. They are fired up to see what this game is all about.”
Most of the rules would make baseball traditionalists blush with a game prohibiting mound visits and bunting (a player will be ejected), stealing of first base on a passed ball, and if a batter steps out of the box (a strike is called).
There are also no walks allowed, which means that on a fourth ball, the player can sprint to as many bases, while the catcher throws the ball to every positioned player. When the last fielder catches it, he can fire it to the proper base to tag the runner out. The rules were developed to help speed up the game and add a little punch to the night’s proceedings.
“We played this on Tuesday, and I have never seen the players more into it,” Cole added.” There was a strategy, and it turned into a bang, bang play at third. The catcher fires the ball to first, second, short, and third. The fielders are moving; the runner is rounding second and then throws the ball to the left field, right field, center field, and then to third for a play. It was wild and pretty crazy.”
The first game of Banana Ball was an inter-squad game that pitted the Yellow Bananas versus the Green Bananas. The first inning witnessed many of these rules, including the sprint to first on ball four, resulting in a four-base score for the green team. After the inning, the score was 4-1 for the road team, but in this crazy game, a 1-point lead for the visitors.
That is because of every inning counting (the first rule in the game). The objective is to be the first team to score five points. It is accomplished by scoring the most runs per inning. If the home team is behind heading into their half of the inning, they can end it with a walk-off victory. If no team reaches the five-point mark by the end of 9 innings or 2 hours of play, it goes into a 1-1 showdown tiebreaker.
Cole describes the tiebreaker as similar to penalty kicks in soccer and came up with the idea after stories of Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige ordering his position players off the field in hopes of striking the batter out.
“This is one of the wildest things, you have the pitcher versus the hitter, and nobody is in the field; the hitter has to score. The pitcher can strike him out, get him to pop up, or there can be a play at the plate. It’s unbelievably exciting; both teams are standing on top of the dugout going crazy.”
Tonight’s game ended in such fashion, with the Green Bananas scoring 4 points heading into the tie-breaker. Needing only one point to secure victory, the green club smacked a liner (after the first batter walked) into the outfield for the walk-off win. Since they were all members of the home team, there was much celebration from everyone at the stadium.
With only a few innings of the new rules being implemented, the rest of the game appeared to mirror a regular baseball game at the historic ballpark. The usual pre-game and in-between inning activities were on display from the baby banana ceremony, the Banana Nana's dance team, and the first pitch of a banana instead of a ball.
This season, the club added a grandma coach who brings out a tray of tea and cookies, a luchador (professional wrestler) coach, fire breathers, stilt walkers, and a circus performer. Cole added that the club is still putting on a show and, despite the smaller crowd, the atmosphere looked and sounded just as boisterous as any other night where sell-out crowds are the norm.
“I wouldn't be surprised if we play again sometime this summer based on the initial response and the buzz. There could be a demand to play the game in the fall or next year. When you tell guys that the game’s going to be fast-paced and within two hours, they're going to be out here. The idea of having an action-packed game with walk-offs and showmanship, the players are fired up about it.”
Banana Ball may or may not take over the local ballpark, but it is the type of game that could make for a nice diversion from the national pastime. The Bananas organization is happy to be back playing ball this summer and adding a sense of normalcy to the community, no matter what type of baseball is played on the diamond.
Baseball is back.