Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
The Savannah Bananas came to Indianapolis, Indiana, this past weekend and played in front of 30,000 people for the two-game series on their 2023 Banana Ball World Tour. Even though Mother Nature had other plans the first night knocking out the power to Victory Field. The skies would open up two days later to provide the canvas for all the wacky hijinks that are Banana Ball.
The lines of people stretched around the perimeter of the ballpark with gunpowder gray skies up above. However, once the gates opened, the drops dissipated and the skies opened up for ideal weather for baseball.
Tickets were at a premium and only Taylor Swift, who was performing at Paycor Stadium 100 miles away in Cincinnati, had a higher demand for tickets. The Bananas themselves have a waitlist of over 800,000.
Banana Ball is a 2-hour version of baseball with nine unique rules. Jesse Cole developed the rules, which debuted in front of an audience in June 2020. At the time, the Bananas were members of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League, but soon this madcap version of the game took off, and the team went around the Southern part of the country to play exhibition games.
Soon, fans expected to see Banana Ball instead of the regular version played at the club’s home ballpark in Grayson Stadium. Soon, Cole decided to leave the CPL and play as a professional barnstorming team akin to the Indianapolis Clowns, House of David, and most famously, basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters.
Cole was not hard to find at the game; he greeted fans entering the stadium from the centerfield entrance. Decked in his trademark yellow tuxedo and hat, he posed for pictures and selfies with the hundreds who walked through that gate. Soon, he was on the field introducing the team and its brand of baseball to thousands sitting in their seats or on the grass lawn of the stadium.
“We drove down on Thursday night, had a flight tire, and then waited for two hours outside the stadium before they canceled the game,” said Julie Dorman from Carmel, Indiana. “We were not going to miss this game today.”
The Bananas brand of baseball has its unique 9-rules that include fans making an out on a caught foul ball (there were two of them in Indy), no bunting, no mound visits, or players stepping out of the batter’s box. A batter can steal first on a wild pitch, and after ball four, the batter can run to as many bases, while all nine position players toss the ball to one another to get him out.
The most interesting twist is that every inning counts. Teams get a point for scoring the most runs per inning. If the teams are scoreless or tied, that inning is even, and you go to the next one. The Bananas 4-2 by winning 4 of the 9 innings.
There was never a dull moment from the time people entered the stadium. Music played over the speaker system, and club M.C. The Young Professor and The Man-Nanas engaged with the audience. Soon, players from the Bananas and their foes, The Party Animals, walked through the crowd tossing bananas and hi-fiving fans young and old.
Among the promotions were players catching bananas from teammates in the stands, a boxing-style weigh-in with a dance-off, and the team's tribute to the Lion King - where a baby is hoisted while players kneel below.
“This is pure entertainment,” said Joe Newman, who brought his family up outside Louisville, Kentucky, to see the game. “I am not a baseball fan, more of a soccer guy, but these guys entertain you for two hours with music and on-field gimmicks.”
Fans decked in official team gear, with a few sporting makeshift t-shirts. I have been to many minor league games and have never seen quite the amount of gear worn in the crowd. The three merchandise tents had long lines throughout the game, with probably quite a few missing out on the action on the field.
“We were in Detroit last night and found out we got tickets at the last minute,” said Dave Kenney of Muskegon, Michigan. “My son and I drove three and a half hours to Indy, and now it’ll be a 4-hour drive back to Muskegon, but it was well worth it.”
Ask anyone that works for Stadium Journey, along with my wife and friends, and they will tell you that I never sit down for an entire game. That was not the case; I wanted to see what would happen next during each inning and decided to plant myself behind home plate in the suite level to get a bird's-eye view of everything on the diamond.
There were two caught foul balls, several sprints after a walk, a person on stilts getting a base hit for a walk-off in one inning, a pitcher with a motorcycle helmet, several celebrations from the Party Animals outside of their dugout, a few backflips from the players, and free donuts handed out for the donut batter striking out.
"It was the Harlem Globetrotters meet baseball," said Dave Buddenbaum, who attended the Friday evening game. "Both teams were talented and made the game fun."
After the game, Cole and the players came out to thank the 15,000 people and met them on the grass lawn for autographs. The Banana Band played while Jesse signed more autographs and posed for pictures. Mobs of people surrounded members of both teams to get the elusive autograph and photo.
The World Tour heads to Akron’s Canal Park for the next night for two games before a few days off before returning to Savannah for the weekend. The 30,000 people who attended games in Indianapolis were provided what had been advertised by the club through social media and word of mouth-baseball and show.
The Savanah Bananas are not doing anything new in minor-league baseball promotions in recent years. The tinkering of the rules and limiting the time of play has created a new set of fans fevering for Banana Ball across the country, an impossibility in any structured league.
As a result of the record crowds in Indianapolis, the minor league ballparks in this country will likely be replaced with larger major league venues.