The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (2023)

Savannah Bananas is one of the greatest and most incredible stories in the sport. They throw the first banana instead of the ball. Their first base coach does the "Thriller" dance move between innings. The players ran to the crowd to distribute roses. After each game, the team sings "Stand by Me." They have two cheerleading teams: the "Dancing Nanas" (70+) and the Man-ananas (both Dad Bods). The team has a waiting list of more than 600,000 tickets. In each game, Bananas will stage their own show with 110 actors. (The Harlem Globetrotters wear No. 30.) But when team founder Jesse Cole decided to remix baseball's rules, the team's popularity exploded. This is the story of the birth of the banana ball told by the inventor himself.

Our two growing seasons in Savannah, with all the singing, dancing, celebrating, fan-friendly promotions, all-inclusive prices and player accessibility, plus our Banana Babies, our first foundation Break dance instructor and our dynamic band. we will definitely deliverbaseballThe product people have always wanted.

We sold out all our home games. Fans are happy. I think this is the perfect recipe.

I made a mistake.

Every night, almost half of the fans pack up and go home, usually in the fifth or sixth inning two hours after the game. We can have the most exciting back and forthbaseballmost spectacular game of all timeinterestingThe package arrived between the seventh and eighth innings, but that didn't matter.

After about two hours, hundreds of fans are complete. On a weeknight, this is understandable. His children were restless. Adults need to rest before going to work in the morning. So for the last few innings, our sold out crowd was more like half full.

I remember one guy on our show getting angry and saying, "This is so rude, people are leaving our show. You never walk out of a movie or a Broadway play halfway through."

To me, however, it was a clear signal: the fans clearly told us that enough was enough.

It's time for a change.

Time to invent... banana balls.

The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (1)

Savannah Bananas legend Dakota "Stilts" Al Briton makes his first pitch in Columbus, Georgia.

What's the best moment in baseball? A lot of people say walkouts, pitches, triples, home runs, ringside sacks and dunks. We asked ourselves: how do we make more of these? What's the worst moment in baseball? Let's say walks, guys keep getting off the batter, pitchers pitch forever, and endless games that go on for four hours. How do we get rid of them?

Then we think about fans. If the fans come first, what are the rules so people really feel invested in the game?

After a lot of experimentation, innovation and evolution, and the way we have always lived, the structure of the banana ball was formed. Essentially, we created nine new rules.

Two hour time limit:The clock starts ticking before the first pitch. Admission is not permitted after 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Equal calculation:If the game is tied after two hours, it goes to a duel, a confrontation between the pitcher and the batter. A defensive team has only one pitcher, one catcher and one infielder (located in the infield). If a batsman retires, the next team gets hit. You only draw one. If the ball is put in play, the fielder must pass the ball back (sometimes to the outfield wall) and prevent the batter from running around the bases. Calculations continue until one team beats the other.

Every change counts:The team with the most points in an inning will be awarded a point. Win a ticket, get a point. If the teams score none or tie, the inning is tied and the next inning is continued. Like my dad said, think of it like a game of golf.

no output:If the batter walks out of the box, it's a strike.

No pennant:If the batsman hits, he will be ejected.

A batsman can steal first:If at any point there is a wild pitch or pass, the batter can advance to first base.

do not walk:On four ball, we call it a "sprint". Hitters can run to first base and beyond, while catchers can quickly throw the ball to teammates. Each of the nine fielders must touch the ball before the batter is out. The Speedsters could hit third (or maybe hit a home run in the park if the defense couldn't finish). If the throw is convenient enough to lift the runner to second, it is considered a good defensive effort.

Not visiting the mound:Coaches, catchers and other players on the field are prohibited from visiting pitchers to avoid unnecessary delays. The game is still going on. Teammates and coaches can compliment their pitchers from afar if necessary.

What's the real way to get fans involved in the game?

Fans can distinguish between:If a fan catches the foul ball in flight, it is considered out.

The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (2)

Savannah Bananas performs her kick "Thunderstruck". (You read that right: "Thunderstruck" kicks the line.

After the summer of 2019, after dreaming, practicing and adjusting, we had to push the rules through the entire game. I got some of my old coaches from Wofford College, one of them is still there, and one was at Rand University at the time, and agreed to play their college players.

This is where he gets a little nervous.

What if our new game doesn't work? What if the players can't adapt? And what if everything is not as we imagined? so what?

At least that's what we expected. While the RAND players were around, the experiments in the lab seemed to be about to begin. These guys have played hundreds of baseball games in their lives, hundreds of times! - but now their look is, "What the hell is going on here?"

"Today, we intend to experiment," I tell them. "We're looking for a faster, more exciting type of game. We want more fun, more celebration. So don't be afraid to let go and have fun. That's what it's all about. Do you agree? "

They looked around, then nodded and smiled. The players are open to our ideas. Some people laughed when we first explained the rules.

"What do you mean, we can steal first? If we go out, is it a strike?

They laughed like elementary school students. It's all so fresh.

So here we go.

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The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (3)

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I'll never forget what happened in the fourth game. A new pitcher shows up on the mound and everyone stops. There were probably 10 players in the stands because the game was essentially a training session. They did their homework. But when the pitcher came in to start another inning, all the girls stopped and started watching the game.

This guy is throwing a ball every six or seven seconds. Everyone in the stands was muttering to themselves, wondering what was going on. The pitcher would recover the ball and immediately pitch again. The whole bat took less than a minute. This is untrue.

After 40 minutes of play, we entered the sixth leg. They all said, "What?"

We want launchers to work as fast as possible, but one launcher in particular (banana shelving?) takes it to the next level. We had someone throw three pitches in about 12 seconds and get one strikeout. For someone who is used to the normal rhythm of baseball, this is great. We played nine full changes in 99 minutes.

Afterwards, all the players laughed. "That was really fun. It was so fast and impressive. We were on the edge. There was no downtime," they said.

And that's exactly what we want.

The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (4)

Meet Jesse Cole, founder of Savannah Bananas. He has seven yellow tuxedos, in case you're curious.

As we continue to test the rules with our players and prepare to get the most out of the game, the pacing of the game is a most welcome aspect. Watching two hours of fast-paced baseball and feeling like you've seen the entire game and never missed a moment has become the foundation of our approach to customer service. Even if we only hit the time limit in the sixth inning, it was still a full night given the constant entertainment and no timeouts. Also, unlike a traditional baseball game, spectators can stay until the end and then go home at a reasonable time.

During the COVID-19 summer of 2020, before Major League Baseball returned to its shortened season, the Bananas were one of the few baseball teams to play. We modified the schedule so we could use the banana ball rule since almost all the second division teams were not playing. We played a full nine innings of banana ball against the Catawba Valley Stars in just 1 hour and 48 minutes.

From a practical standpoint - for the amateur or TV producer - it's ideal. Just like people's plans are now, it's very reassuring to let fans know when Endgame can be reached. College football and NFL games can last as long as three and a half to four hours these days, but that's only once a week. If there were 162 NFL games, baseball-style schedule, would people watch them all?

Players also like tight and predictable schedules.

With kids' attention spans getting shorter and shorter, would a new generation bother to see if baseball didn't adjust its tempo?

"I think that's what the players prefer," said former first-round pick Jack Scholl, who played on our 2022 World Tour team. Their mental coaches instruct players to slow down and focus, but that pace is not so motivating for fans. With Banana Ball, you don't have time to do anything but play fast and furious. You better put your ego aside and focus, or you'll get hit again. The game is going fast. "

Nothing moves faster than our "dash," which is what hitters do after throwing four pitches. It was disastrous at first. The catcher doesn't know where to throw, and the hitter has a good chance of going around the bases. Now that's been distilled, it's race. It's more competitive and exciting than walking, which is pretty boring.

There's an element of excitement to the head-to-head tiebreaker, too. It's like kids on the playground. The defender might have to run to the outfield wall to see if he can catch the ball before the batter runs to home plate. It gets the blood flowing and is a fantastic way to decide games. At first, some people wanted us to settle the game with a home derby. It is notOnakoytoo slow. The confrontation sent spectators flying from their stadium seats.

"It is a calculationhands and hands...who will beat whom? said Dakota McFadden, one of our top two-way players. "He wants to catch you." You want it. Don't you think that would make good TV or it would make good TV?

"All the rules of Banana Ball promote throwing hits and throwing the ball into the game. This removes the dead forest, the boring part of the game that puts people to sleep. That's why our fans are so interested in it. Great thing It always happens."

Of course, all fans are fascinated by the possibility of catching a throw-in and getting out. This happened six times on our 2022 world tour, and almost three times in one race. We usually bring a fan to our dugout to buy some accessories. Anyone catching throws is great, period, but the idea of ​​helping the Bananas out? Excessive! Of course, if a Banana hitter hits a foul, we implore fans to throw the ball down. Fans around are very good at executing this.

All the twists, changes, and tweaks to the rules are meant to make the game funnier, faster, and more engaging, especially for those who don't like baseball. One of our coaches, Adam Virant, uses the climate change analogy and suggests that we think of baseball as a glacier: slowly moving but subtly cracking. One day, as kids have shorter attention spans, will a new generation bother to see if baseball has adjusted its tempo?

Banana ball rules were on full display when we spent two nights in Mobile, Alabama ahead of the 2021 summer coastal plain season. Mobile lost their Double-A minor league team and we sold out both games in no time. We're calling it a city's "world tour," and it's the first tangible evidence that Banana Balls will do well outside of Savannah, too.

We worked closely with former MLB pitcher Jake Peavy, who won the 2007 National League Cy Young Award and played in three All-Star Games. He's a mobile native who really cares about his hometown. After the minor league teams left, Jack helped bring other events to his field, and that was his introduction to the Bananas.

"There's no denying that the fans love and enjoy what Jesse's team has to offer. These banana ball rules are great. I think some of the soul of baseball has been taken away with the analytics and the changes and those other things. Bananas bring back the human element, the kind of baseball we all remember as kids when it was so much fun. Bananaball in one word: fun.

frombanana ballsJesse Cole and Don Yaeger, published by Dutton, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 Jesse Cole.

The Incredible Story of How Savannah Bananas Changed Baseball (5)

jessie cole

Founder of Savannah Banana Company

Jesse Cole, proud inventor of Banana Balls and Dolce & Banana underwear, and creator of Human Horse Race and Flatulence Fun Night, But not so proud. He adores his wife, Emily, their three children, and such unparalleled promoters as Walt Disney, PT Barnum, and Bill Vick. Jesse has seven yellow tuxedos.

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