“Let the kids play” has been a recent maxim in Major League Baseball, a league attempting to introduce the sport to a younger audience. And trying do away with arcane unwritten rules and time sucks, and add excitement.
Young stars like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. embody the youthful spark to major league baseball that the league seeks. But to get to the heart of ‘letting the kids play,’ you have to look into another league entirely: The Coastal Plain League (CPL).
That’s where you’ll find the Savannah Bananas. They’re a hijinks-heavy college wood bat team, determined to rid baseball of ‘boring’ and crank the showmanship to 11.
Filling the baseball void in Savannah left when the Sand Gnats headed to South Carolina, the Bananas put an eccentric twist on America’s Pastime. Moreover, they’re shattering attendance records in the process.
Introducing legal sports betting in GA would indeed seem fitting, a state where sports remain in focus all year round. The Bananas are yet another team keeping Georgians sports focused.
Making a circus of America’s pastime
Their secret sauce? Incorporating TikTok-worthy quirks and fun into the fan experience.
They’ve upped that ante with their recent traveling exhibitions, which encompass a Globetrotters-esque vibe. They’ve even got their own on-field antagonists a la the Washington Generals: The Savannah Party Animals.
As far as the games are concerned, you can bet the competition is real; it may just involve warming up on stilts and cartwheel pitching windups. It sounds like a baseball purist’s abject hellscape and an extremely fantastic time for the usually baseball averse.
Down in Savannah, they call it Banana Ball and it aims at a fan–first experience. It strips away the pomp and circumstance and unwritten haughtiness that courses through baseball traditionalism.
In the words of Bananas’ owner Jesse Cole, “We looked at every boring play, and we got rid of it.”
The CPL changed some of the rules to increase the speed of games and hold the fans’ attention, including:
- No mound visits by either manager
- A batter stepping out of the box between pitches earns an automatic strike
- If any fan catches a foul ball, it’s an ‘out’ for the playing team
- Batters are to sprint to first base after a walk
- And the ball must be thrown to every fielder before time is called. Meaning, a walk can turn into a home run.
Excitement is the name of the game
Banana Ball is part sports competition, seemingly part circus performance. There’s choreography and pranks, showmanship and showboating, and absolutely no bunting.
Former MLB Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy even joined the act recently. He went about tossing a frame wearing the actual Gold Glove he won with the 2012 Chicago White Sox. They also signed 75-year-old Red Sox Hall of Famer, Bill Lee to their pitching staff.
It’s Bizarro Baseball, and it’s taking Savannah by storm. By combining social media aplomb with an entertaining on-field product, the Bananas managed to create an insatiable demand for tickets. Their Savannah Bananas TikTok account has over 2.5 million followers.
They’ve embraced and capitalized on their identity as a Meme Team, and are setting records in the process.
The Savannah Bananas provide a recipe for success
In their first year in the Coastal Plains League, the Bananas broke the single-season attendance record. They had 91,000 recorded fans in 25 games at Grayson Stadium.
They led the league in attendance for four years straight — and welcomed over 117K fans in 2019.
Seemingly capturing lightning in a bottle, the Bananas provide somewhat of a template for Major League Baseball. A league plagued by lengthy games and the doldrums of mound visits, instant replay, and pitching changes. It’s the stuff of snoozing. And why MLB points a laser focus at instituting rules to keep games from running on ad nauseam.
Perhaps Major League Baseball could take a page or two from the Savannah Bananas’ operational playbook.
The Braves were America’s team of the 1990s. But the Bananas, with their fan-wow-ing whimsy and strict aversion to ‘boring baseball’, appear to have found the algorithm for putting spectators in the seats.
MLB doesn’t need to adopt the stilts and the cartwheel windups. But the Savannah Bananas certainly has an engaging template for letting the kids play.
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