(NEW YORK) — When fans come home from seeing the Savannah Bananas play, founder Jesse Cole hopes they take away one thing: “That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a baseball game.”
People around the world have gone bananas for the exhibition baseball team playing and entertaining with their own set of rules since 2016. That includes allowing players, coaches and umpires to break out into elaborate dance routines and other circus-like antics in the middle of the game.
“GMA3” reporter Will Ganss caught up with the team in Staten Island, New York, earlier this month along their sold-out tour.
“As a fan who played ball my whole life, I was bored by moments in the game,” Cole, clad in his signature banana-colored suit and bowler hat, told ABC News. “I said, ‘How do we make it nonstop entertainment, nonstop fun that fans literally can’t look away?’ You have to watch what’s happening. And so it’s just nonstop entertainment, and that’s what makes it a lot of fun.”
When they’re not on the road, the Savannah Bananas play to sold-out crowds at home in Georgia at Grayson Stadium – the former home of Mets-affiliated minor league team, the Savannah Sand Gnats. They’ve also become a social media sensation, racking up more than 10 million followers and 200 million likes across all of their platforms.
But it wasn’t always certain the Bananas would hit a grand slam with their fans.
When Cole and his wife, Emily, first came to Savannah, they didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome, according to a YouTube video put out by the franchise looking back on their story in 2019. Some in the community were skeptical about the newcomers. Cole and his small team recall cold calling people to drum up excitement and ticket sales, but things were slow at first.
The couple says they had to sell their home and drain their savings to keep their dream afloat. It was a huge gamble, but it ultimately paid off.
After they launched a contest for the public to come up with a name for the team, everything changed, Cole says. Choosing the name Bananas received a lot of media attention, and not all of it was positive.
“We were crucified. However, we got attention. People were talking about us. And so the first few weeks afterwards, the publicity nationally was huge. Locally, they were ripping us apart, but everyone was talking about us,” Cole says in the video.
The Savannah Bananas soon became a viral sensation online. Since that first sold-out home game, they’ve more than lived up to their name. They’ve got their own pep band, all-seniors dance team “The Banana Nanas,” and even their own form of play called “Banana Ball” that’s designed to keep the game moving, according to their website.
Banana Ball rules include a two-hour limit, no bunting (that will get you ejected from the game) and no mound visits, their website says. Games are won by points, instead of runs. The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets one point, except in the final inning when every run counts as one point. According to rule 8, if a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out.
On the road, excited fans pour into the stands, eager to see their online obsession take the field in person.
Silly, zany, at times maybe even outlandish – you can say many things about the Bananas – but boring isn’t one of them.
“We’re trying to create the greatest show in sports,” Cole said.