Bananas: An attractive team – and more followers than the Yankees

Even as baseball is in crisis, the Bananas, which field amateur players hoping to play in front of scouts, have 60,000 people on their waiting list. And their antics are TikTok gold. Their cheerleaders: the dad-bod-glorious “Man-Nanas”. The dance troupe, the “Banana Nanas”, is made up of people over the age of 65. The team has over 3 million followers on social media. It’s more than the Yankees. Did we mention they were wearing yellow kilts?

“Baseball is in crisis, and it tells us about our society: We want a quick fix, quick action, or entertainment,” says sports historian Thomas Zeiler, co-author of “National Pastime: US History Through Baseball “. “And that’s really what this Savannah team hit on: ‘Listen, this is baseball. But what we’re really looking for is entertainment.

Why we wrote this

Even as baseball loses its role as a national pastime, the Savannah Bananas are reinventing it. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as everyone feels like they belong in the game.

The team’s success dates back to owner Jesse Cole’s father, Kerry, once telling him, “Swing hard, in case you hit him.”

The rise of bananas as a social media phenomenon stands in stark contrast to the deeper woes of baseball at large.

With this in mind, the team, according to some baseball historians, offers a return to a sand court mentality. The club and its fans are not just a reminder of the game’s past. They can be a glimpse of its future.

Savannah, Ga.

When Brian Nichols got the chance to go on Savannah Bananas’ “world tour” this year, the guy known as “Sexy Sax” didn’t hesitate.

As the musician traveled to faraway places like…Alabama to showcase the team’s unique take on baseball – Banana Ball – he could hardly believe what he was seeing.

An obscure Coastal Plain League team was selling other teams’ stadiums. And the crowds were going crazy.

Why we wrote this

Even as baseball loses its role as a national pastime, the Savannah Bananas are reinventing it. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as everyone feels like they belong in the game.

“What kind of sports team goes on a world tour?” Mr. Nichols said from behind gold Ray-Bans. “When we walk into these stadiums where 200, 300 people usually show up and we sell it, people notice it. We’re modernizing baseball.

OK, he’s partial. But bananas are really in a category of their own. They make an attractive team – and their own fanfare.

Even as baseball is in crisis, the Bananas, which field amateur players hoping to play in front of scouts, have 60,000 people on their waiting list. And their antics are TikTok gold. Their cheerleaders: the dad-bod-glorious “Man-Nanas”. The “Banana Nanas” are a dance troupe over 65 years old. The team has over 3 million followers on social media. It’s more than the Yankees. Did we mention they were wearing yellow kilts?

“Baseball is in crisis, and it tells us about our society: We want a quick fix, quick action, or entertainment,” says sports historian Thomas Zeiler, co-author of “National Pastime: US History Through Baseball “. “And that’s really what this Savannah team hit on: ‘Listen, this is baseball. But what we’re really looking for is entertainment.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor

Four thousand fans filled the stands at historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Georgia on July 12, 2022, to watch the Savannah Bananas beat the Holly Springs Salamanders 9-2.

The team’s success since its launch in 2016 can be traced back to owner Jesse Cole’s father, Kerry, once telling him, “Swing hard, in case you hit him.”

The rise of bananas as a social media phenomenon stands in stark contrast to the deeper woes of baseball at large.

With this in mind, the team, according to some baseball historians, offers a return to a sand court mentality. The club and its fans are not just a reminder of the game’s past. They can be a glimpse of its future.

“It’s great to see people thinking about putting fans first and making it an entertainment product where people can attend a community event for the night and go home with a smile on their face,” says Patrick Brown. , member of Ethics. and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, and lifelong baseball fan.

Today, the sport, critics say, looks as confused as the rest of the country as to where it’s headed.

Major League Baseball games get longer as the drones beat. The score is down. Players live in different postcodes from their fans. Advertisers seem happy as long as the TV shows people in the stands behind home plate. The crickets in the rest of the stadium don’t seem to matter in the end.

“‘We’re healthy, our revenue streams are up, but we know it’s not the national pastime anymore,'” an MLB executive recently told University historian Dr. Zeiler. of Colorado-Boulder.

University of Pittsburgh sports historian Rob Ruck predicts a “national sports recession” if fans continue to decamp.

That way, he says, the bananas start to look like sand saviors.

“The Savannah team tapped into the reaction [of] …people who love sports for many good reasons, but hate the business of sports,” says Dr. Ruck, author of “The Tropic of Baseball.” “It’s kind of a throwback to the past, which seems like a healthy antidote to what’s happening in the present.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole prepares moms and their toddlers for “The World’s Slowest Race” event during a game in Savannah, Georgia on July 12, 2022.

Mr. Cole, the 30-year-old owner who cites PT Barnum as an inspiration and wears a yellow tuxedo, traces Bananaland to a time: a 23-year-old coach of a minor league team in the Carolinas , he sat bored in the dugout, waiting for the game to end so he could go home.

He wondered: why can’t the game change? It turns out that many of his innovations follow a tradition of baseball’s first regional rules. Among them: games have a two-hour time limit, fans can catch fly balls for outs, and players can steal first base. At the same time, bananas are perfectly suited to a TikTok world.

“The Bananas do the best of both: they get the spontaneity, joy and irregularity of early baseball with the modern sense of time”, which is much faster than when the game was invented before the Civil War, says Sarah Gronningsater, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr Gronningsater says bananas were first brought to his attention in his baseball history class by a British student who spotted the team on TikTok.

The apparent spontaneity on the pitch is meant to create moments. But each game is carefully scripted, says Cole. Misfires, misfires and mistakes are valued as much as when things go well. Players and staff are encouraged to be themselves, just to the power of 10.

There’s a dance first base coach who knows more about backflips than baseball. Meanwhile, the janitor became one of the dugout coaches during last year’s league season. There’s the slowest race in the world: crawling toddlers! Concessions are included in the ticket. Grayson Stadium, where Jackie Robinson once played and where Babe Ruth hit a home run, is free of advertisements and billboards. Instead, there’s a Fan Wall, covered in fan signatures.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor

Mums and their toddlers are waiting for an event called ‘The World’s Slowest Race’ which features ‘non-walking toddlers’ crawling towards their mothers at a finish line. The event took place during a game between the Savannah Bananas and the Holly Springs Salamanders on July 12, 2022 in Savannah, Georgia.

It was also Coastal Plain League champions who spit roasted the Holly Springs Salamanders 9-2 on Tuesday night, with the Bananas players batting apart with choreographed shimmy contests with local dancers.

The Salamanders watched helplessly from a scrum of folding chairs that served as their dugout. It can’t help but heighten comparisons with another team famous for their flair, athleticism and world-traveling ways.

“As in a [Harlem] In the game of globetrotters, you almost feel bad for the other team,” says Dr. Zeiler.

“You feel lucky just to get a ticket,” says Vik Manocha, a college student who grew up on neighboring Wilmington Island. “There’s just a buzz about a team really trying to change baseball.”

However, not everyone in the stand prioritizes showmanship over sportsmanship. Lifelong baseball fan Jim Joyce remembers attending Savannah Redlegs games in the mid-1950s with his father.

“I can only muster the energy to come to one game a year and, look at me, I’m leaving after the fifth inning,” says Joyce. “It’s something, but it’s not baseball.”

“I agree that baseball needs to be reformed,” he adds. “I would accept a throwing clock [to speed up at-bats]. Can’t a guy just hope to find a happy medium? »

Not that night. Behind him, we hear a whole stadium singing on Coldplay’s “Yellow”, the lamps of the mobile phones are on.

“Because you were all yellow,” thunders the crowd.

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