Baseball is going bananas in Savannah

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A revolution is taking place in Savannah, Georgia. It began the moment Jesse Cole announced the name of his newly organized summer collegiate baseball team on Feb. 25, 2016. The Savannah Bananas quickly became the hottest ticket in baseball. The Bananas have sold out every home game at historic Grayson Stadium. The old ballpark bursts at the seams as capacity crowds fill the 4,000-seat venue. 

The popularity of the team sparked owner Jesse Cole to bring barnstorming back to baseball. The first Savannah Bananas World Tour took place last year after two home Banana Ball games were held at Grayson. The world tour consisted of two games in one city, Mobile, Alabama. Hank Aaron Stadium became the site of Banana Ball. 

Cole created Banana Ball, a new version of baseball, with its own unique set of nine basic rules. 

Rule Number One: Every inning counts. At the conclusion of each inning the runs are tallied. The team with the most runs wins the inning by earning a point. The first team to five points wins the game. 

Rule Number Two: Two-hour time limit. The fast-paced games are designed to last two hours if possible. The start of a new inning can not take place past the 1:50 mark. 

Rule Number Three: No stepping out of the batter’s box. A strike is called when a batter steps out. 

Rule Number Four: No walks allowed. Ball four entitles the runner to begin sprinting around the bases. Each fielder must touch the ball. A fast runner can score if he makes it home before the ball makes its way to all the fielders and he is tagged out. Therefore, a non-walk usually turns into a double, triple, or home run depending on the quickness of the runner vs. the throwing talent of the fielders. 

Rule Number Five: Batters can steal First. The batter can advance to first base on a wild pitch or passed ball. 

Rule Number Six: No bunting. Any batter attempting to bunt receives an immediate ejection from the game. 

Rule Number Seven: No mound visits. A mound visit only takes place for pitching changes. 

Rule Number Eight: If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out. Truly bringing Jesse Cole’s Fans First approach to the fans in the stands. 

Rule Number Nine: Showdown tiebreaker. In the event neither team reaches five points in regulation Banana Ball, three defensive players take on one batter. The defense consists of the pitcher, catcher, and one fielder (who must be on the infield grass when the pitcher throws the baseball). The three fielders must combine talents to get the runner out before reaching home plate. Teams switch back and forth after each out. 

If the rules left you with a banana-splitting headache and totally confused, past Banana Ball games can be viewed on YouTube. Banana Ball rules can be somewhat overwhelming to traditional baseball fans. The energy created by this fast-paced brand of baseball is well worth the initial confusion. This year’s Banana Ball World Tour took the team to Daytona Beach and West Palm Beach; Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; Columbus, Georgia; and Kansas City, Kansas. The Bananas took on their manufactured archrivals the Party Animals (Globetrotters vs. Generals). The Party Animals were able to pull off wins during the World Tour. The two games in Kansas City featured the Monarchs. 

You are not going bananas if the Kansas City Monarchs have a ring of familiarity. Carrabelle’s Buck O’Neil played and managed for the original Monarchs. The modern-day Monarchs are part of the independent American Association of Professional Baseball League comprising 12 teams. The Monarchs honored the recently elected hall of famer by hosting Buck O’Neil Day on May 22; O’Neil will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on July 24.

The Bananas Premier professional team took on the Banana’s collegiate team at Fan Fest on May 24. The teams played the game under Banana Ball rules transforming Grayson Stadium into a baseball party. Team owner Cole morphed into ringleader donning a yellow tux and matching top hat. The on-field entertainment includes a dancing first base coach, the Man - Nanas, the Bananas Pep Band, and the Banana Nanas Dance Team. 

The Man-Nanas consist of dad bod cheerleaders. The Banana Nanas’ age requirement is 65 years old. The lady dancers might be the most popular of all the on-field entertainers. Cole and other PA announcers introduce these groups and other crazy between-inning antics throughout the game. 

The Savannah Bananas packed a lot of entertainment into the $25 open seating tickets. This nominal fee includes all-you-can-eat hotdogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, popcorn, chips, cookies, and sodas. The Bananas defeated the collegiate Bananas 2-0. The team also passed out banana costumes to fans. The banana costume tally reached a record 1,968. Go Bananas Folks, Go Bananas! Fan Fest concluded Banana Ball for the time being. 

The Savannah Bananas have begun their regular season in the collegiate Coastal Plain League. The league comprises 15 teams based in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia. The league utilizes wood bats and plays under traditional baseball rules. The Savannah Bananas’ home games feature the same entertainment as described earlier. 

Home games sell out fast. If you are interested in attending a game, join the priority list for regular season tickets or Banana Ball games. Banana Ball resumes in August. The waitlist currently stands at over 40,000 for home games. All current games at Grayson Stadium are sold out. Additional Banana Ball games might be added to the schedule. Visit the Savannah Bananas official website for more information regarding Banana Ball or to join the ticket priority list. 

Baseball aficionado Joshua Weaver has several Buck O'Neil items on loan at the Carrabelle History Museum. He travels to ballparks and baseball points of interest around the country. Joshua is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research’s North Florida/Buck O'Neil Chapter based in Tallahassee. 

Savannah Bananas, baseball, Buck O'Neil

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