The Greatest Show on Dirt: A New Brand of Baseball
By Hunter Eskenazi
“America’s Pastime,” for many reasons, earned its illustrious nickname because there are truly few things comparable to a midsummer baseball game. The 7th-inning stretch, endless food and drinks, and all the mid-inning festivities make the experience unlike any other. With over 150 years of the sport, would it be possible to reinvent the game to make it more enjoyable? Enter a team from southern Georgia, the show-stopping, incredibly entertaining Savannah Bananas. Breaking the barriers of traditional baseball, this revolutionary franchise plays its own brand of baseball because they want to be different. Enter Banana Ball. From players on towering stilts to flaming bats and balls, a night at their ballpark is an unforgettable experience. The Bananas have committed the game and experience to their fans by taking a “Fans First, Entertain Always” approach, which has not only revitalized the classic game of baseball but has reached into an untapped demographic of both young and old fans, growing the game and reminding their fans of their ultimate goal: to make baseball more fun.
Before becoming a social media sensation and a must-see experience, the Bananas played in the Coastal Plain League, a wood-bat collegiate summer baseball league. They played in this league from 2016 to 2022, winning multiple championships while slowly incorporating their own playing style and growing their online presence. The franchise soon made its exit from the league in 2023 and has spent this summer on their Banana Ball World Tour, attempting to play 70 games across 33 cities in 21 states with their counterpart show team, the Savannah Party Animals. When purchasing the team in 2015, owner Jesse Cole could not have even imagined the entertainment powerhouse he’s turned the Savannah Bananas into. Splurging hundreds of thousands of dollars and putting themselves in debt, Jesse and his wife Emily took a leap of faith, hoping that something would click. The Savannah Bananas were born when the duo crowdsourced for a new team name. Following this rebranding, the team's outlook took a turn for the better, becoming more attractive to fans while becoming an incredibly profitable goldmine. Sporting his signature yellow tuxedo and top hat, Jesse has become an icon that symbolizes the charismatic and lively nature of the Bananas.
From barely making ends meet to being the head of the dragon of this admirable franchise, Jesse’s vision of putting the fans first makes the team such a hit. By daring to take the path less traveled and persevering where others fail, he is a mastermind marketer who knows which hands his product needs to go into. “If you're not being criticized, you're playing it too safe,” says Emily, who credits the growth of the Bananas to Jesse and his risk-taking behavior. Receiving national attention on social media for their unique play, the team has since garnered millions of views and followers across TikTok, Instagram, and all other social media platforms. With tickets yielding a hefty price tag and a waitlist nearing 1 million fans, entering the 4,000-seat Grayson Stadium will leave fans feeling like VIPs. The stadium is one-of-a-kind, becoming the first professional stadium to become completely ad-free since sponsors began placing billboards in venues more than a century ago. The mission is to serve the fans in a better way instead of capitalizing on their supporters, and where others see ads as a stream of revenue, the Bananas see it as a distraction and want to capture the full attention of the fans. Now classified as an independent team and presumably their own business, Banana Ball has endless opportunities for growth.
For those just learning about this team, many ask the same question: what in the world is Banana Ball? As the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball, Jesse Cole bought his team with the intent of making the game faster and more attractive to fans. Similar to the MLB and the pitch clock implementation for the 2023 season, the Savannah Bananas set a limit of two hours of playing time. American baseball has been planning a change in the pace of play for years, originally tested out in the minor leagues before making its way to the big leagues. MLB games are on average, thirty minutes faster, along with total attendance projected to reach near record-highs. Baseball may have cracked the code to gain more popularity, and the numbers have shown.
“Banana Ball” is the name of the game, consisting of nine unique rules that eliminate any downtime and give the fans more of what they want with less idle time and more fun. By altering the game's standard rules, the Bananas want zero stoppage in play. From prohibiting mound visits and batter time-outs to no walks and bunts, the game is far from ordinary. The most exciting rule which literally brings fans into the game is that every foul ball that a fan catches will be counted as an out. The team has also completely wiped out traditional scoring and instead implements a point system that rewards one point for the team that scores the most runs in that given inning. If the game is tied after the two-hour mark, the teams square off in a bizarre “Showdown Tiebreaker” with the goal of scoring a walk-off run. Singing, dancing, and stunts performed by the players are all a part of what gives this next-level experience non-stop action.
In what Jesse Cole labels as “The Greatest Show in Sports,” the players, as much as the fans, discovered a newfound joy for baseball. His players come from vastly different backgrounds, from former high school and college players to MLB draft picks who have been given a second chance with the Savannah Bananas. Jackson Olson, a member of the Savannah Bananas and one of their most notable TikTok personalities, finished his career playing college ball at Stetson University before Jesse and co. took a chance on him. Other players, such as Bill Leroy, are thankful for the opportunity to give back to the community and provide experiences they never had in their childhoods. This gives fans every reason to show out and support the boys down in Bananaland, and with sights set on the future, Jesse and his squad are ready to reach new heights and show the rest of the world what Banana Ball is all about.