The Savannah Bananas have been dubbed by some as "baseball's Harlem Globetrotters."
It was the first inning of the third inning at Grayson Stadium, home of the Savannah Bananas. The home side, in their customary yellow jerseys, moved closer to the inside of the pitch as the second batsman took his place again. Excitement in anticipation of the next pitch spread through the stands.
But first there is the TikTok dance.
Beyoncé blares from the speakers, and the Bananas begin with a perfectly syncopated rhythm, ending with a fiery fastball over the batter.
It's banana baseball, in more ways than one. Since its inception in 2016, the Georgia-based Coastal Plain League team has been breaking the game's unwritten rules and captivating crowds year after year,Nearly 2.5 million followers on TikTok(A number most MLB teams can match). Fans from all over the country lined up in the hundreds to watch what some called "the baseball player of Harlem baseball."
The phenomenon started with a simple thought: "Baseball is fun. What if it was true?"actuallyinteresting? "
Keep up with the "TikTok world"
Jesse Cole in the middle ignites the crowd.
at the moment,The Savannah Bananas are actually made up of two teams.– A team from the Coastal Plain League that plays summer baseball at the collegiate level, and a professional Premiere team that competes in a shorter special game called "Banana Ball." Both teams have that wacky "anything goes" energy that jazzes up games, creates five-figure ticket waiting lists and fills TikTok with viral baseball jokes .
Team owner and founder Jesse Cole is responsible for this energy. Sam Cole is a bit of a standout, with his signature yellow suit and seemingly endless creativity.
"We exist to make baseball fun and make it fun for the fans first," he told CNN. "We challenge the rules and the way we do things on the baseball field."
"Fans First" is the latest mantra for Kerr and Team Bananas. When they first started playing in Savannah, Kerr said he would pay close attention to the fans to see which parts of the game resonated most. The team decided fans didn't want to be betrayed at games, so they removed in-arena advertising despite the huge potential revenue loss. They believe games must be faster and more consistently exciting. They saw an opportunity to reach more fans outside the stands.
"Baseball games are getting longer and slower, but our attention spans are getting shorter," Kerr said. "We live in a TikTok world. People can enjoy great entertainment with just a flick of a finger. How do you create something to match that?"
Banana Nana on the boardwalk.
To be clear, Bananas were famous long before TikTok became the dominant social media powerhouse. Instead, they posted the video on Facebook and continued to find ways to make the game more fun. They bring unique entertainment, like (good)Ballet dance basic trainerIpineapple banana, Senior Cheerleading. They devised a three-hour rain delay scenario so fans wouldn't get bored in bad weather. When TikTok took off, they jumped on the bandwagon without hesitation.
But Cole still feels something bigger. Anyone who has been to a baseball stadium knows that crowds tend to shrink as the game progresses. With most MLB games lasting more than three hours, a baseball game is a test of patience for even the most devoted fan.
It didn't go well for Cole.
"You don't leave a great movie halfway through and say, 'That was great. I've seen enough!'" he said.
So, in 2018, Cole created "banana ball," a shorter game of baseball with slightly different rules to keep things alive.
Banana players take action and walk on stilts.
It's been a success, and this season, the dedicated Banana Ball Premier team kicked off a sold-out "Banana Ball World Tour" at the arena in the South East. Around 120 artists participated in all events.
"It's the whole baseball circus," Kerr said.
They keep the same vigor for the Coastal Plains League. Everything was coordinated, from the third-inning TikTok dance break to the home run celebration. The team holds what they call "Over The Top" meetings, where no idea is off limits. That's how they get ideas for TikTok and make sure there's a balance between having a good game and having fun.
After all, it's still baseball. The Bananas are still here to win.
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Players greet a banana-clad baby (looks like it) before a game.
Baseball has a special gravity in the sports world. After all, this is an American pastime whose dignity is underpinned by a million little unwritten rules. Players can play for years, but their careers start or end the moment the ball finds the glove.
It's not always easy to lure them in with their favorite loud yellow game.
Bill Leroy, 23, was recruited to join the Savannah Bananas five years ago after finishing his sophomore year at North Georgia State University. Originally from the small town of Dublin, Georgia, Leroy had never performed in front of a large audience. He certainly was never asked to dance or perform game tricks in front of the camera.
"It's a different culture for a guy who's loved baseball his whole life," LeRoy told CNN. "Kids ask, 'What the hell is this? What are we trying to do here? Is this baseball?' But then you get into the mindset and realize it's cool and fun."
Leroy's short-term contract turned into a multi-year one. I was with the team when they won.2021 Coastal Plain League Champions, now playing for the Premiere team. The man who once said he was going off-camera is now thrilling crowds in front of his camera, wowing them with his tricks at receiver and, yes, doing a little dance.
Bill Leroy takes a selfie with fans.
The real impact of this whole banana thing is on Leroy and the other players on tour. During a recent stop in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Premiere team was thrilled to find fans waiting outside the stadium calling their names loudly. The team's social media presence goes a long way in gaining the affection of fans everywhere, but it's in games that Kerr's "fans come first" ethos really shines through.
For a player like LeRoy, energy is contagious. It makes them play better and makes them really think about who they're fighting for.
"We interact with fans as much as we can, get as many autographs as possible," Leroy said. "When they leave, we want them to have a thought that the game of baseball can be played happily."
Even the Banana Celebration was coordinated to strike a balance between fun and baseball action.
For all of this to happen, players must be equal parts artist and athlete. To make sure they achieve both goals, head coach Tyler Guillam coined the phrase, now painted on their bats and hung in the locker room: "Turn on the switch."
Leroy explained that when that switch is flipped, everything comes into focus. "Every minute of the game (outside the game) was on," he said. "So, the idea is to go to the stand. Go smash it. Then flip the switch. Now you play. You might have to throw, you might have to run."
This mindset, that you can have fun and excel in equal measure, has proven to be a winning formula. The Bananas are heading for another winning season and already have two league titles. Nobody can deny a player's credentials, whether he's an old pro like former MLB star Jake Peavy or a former college player from Oklahoma turned fireman-slash-rodeo clown who can play in the Throw a small gun after completing the cartwheel. . (he is the realhis name is matt wolf.)
Mat Wolf is one of the few players on the Bananas roster with colorful credentials.
No, it's not the big leagues. should not. In fact, fans of the Savannah Bananas might argue that MLB could learn a thing or two from the charming personalities and social media magic that made this small Southern team a national hit. Phenomenon.
"There was a time when I let the ups and downs of the game destroy my joy," LeRoy said. "Sport has become such a big business, so connected. I don't want to look back at my career and think, 'Did I treat it like a job?' It's done for fun."