Savannah Bananas split college team to focus on ‘Banana Ball’
The Savannah Bananas announced Wednesday that they will be discontinuing their collegiate amateur summer league team and playing their unique Banana Ball format year-round in Savannah, Georgia, and across the country.
Starting in 2023, professional Bananas players will play every game with the unorthodox rules of Banana Ball. Rules include a two-hour time limit, no leaving the batter’s box, no bunting, no steps, and foul balls caught by fans are ruled out.
The 2022 summer season, which ended Aug. 5 with an on-field championship celebration at Grayson Stadium, was the last the Bananas played in the Coastal Plain League, a wooden-bat league for college players. with 14 teams in Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia. and North Carolina.
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The Bananas have been members of the league for 26 years since the team’s inception in 2016 and have won three Petitt Cup championships, in 2016 and back-to-back titles in 2021 and 2022. That’s three of six qualifying seasons, as there were no playoffs in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.
Why the change?
While the Bananas college team was able to play their brand of entertaining baseball at home games, they played baseball directly on the road out of respect for local CPL teams. This left Bananas fans who made it to the road games disappointed that the experience wasn’t what they expected.
“The Coastal Plain League has been a great partner for the past seven years,” Bananas owner Jesse Cole said in a press release. “They have helped us develop great players and even better people who have made an impact in our community. We are truly grateful for their support in this next step for Bananas and Banana Ball.
The move to a year-round Banana Ball schedule gives the team the ability to schedule more games both in Savannah and around the country, in order to accommodate more Bananas fans. With 80,000 fans on the Banana Ball waiting list for ticket requests, this gives the Bananas the freedom to create a schedule to cater to as many fans as possible.
The Bananas roster will now consist of all professional players, including former Bananas and MLB players. Former major leaguers who have played include Cy Young Award and All-Star pitcher Jake Peavy and World Series champion Jonny Gomes, while 11-year-old big leaguer Eric Byrnes is the head coach in 2022. Legendary catcher Johnny Bench participated as first base. coach for a game in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The Premier team will play its designated foil, the Party Animals, along with other professional teams, both in Savannah and across the country.
Focus on the fans
“Since we came to Savannah in 2016, we have been relentlessly focused on creating a better fan experience and have watched and listened to our fans every step of the way,” Cole said. “We believe this is the most fan-focused decision we’ve ever made as a company.
“Over the past seven seasons, even with sold-out crowds and non-stop promotions and entertainment, we’ve seen fans leave our games early. With Banana Ball, we’ve seen 98% of fans stay up. ‘at the end of the game. It was revolutionary for the game of baseball. But most importantly, we’ve heard from players and thousands of fans that it was the most fun they’ve had playing and watching the game. baseball.
Banana Ball was first played as an exhibition match in 2018 where a nine inning match ended in 99 minutes. In 2020, the Bananas played Banana Ball in Savannah in front of Bananas fans before taking the game to the road for the first time in 2021 for a “One City World Tour”. Both games at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Alabama sold out, as did the sold-out sales at all Bananas home games from the middle of the 2016 inaugural season through this summer.
Last spring, the Bananas traveled to six cities on the “Banana Ball World Tour” and sold out every game. The tour was captured as an ESPN+ original series “Bananaland” which premiered August 19 on ESPN2. The five-part documentary series takes fans behind the scenes of the Banana Ball Tour and airs every Friday on ESPN+ until September 16.
During the tour, the Bananas played two games against the defending AFC champion Kansas City Monarchs in front of a record crowd at Legends Field.
What to expect
In addition to the Party Animals, the Bananas will face other professional teams from the nation’s top independent leagues. Fans can expect more of these challenger games to be played year-round in Savannah and on the road.
“We will bring the highest level of talent to the Bananas in both baseball and entertainment,” said Tyler Gillum, who served as head coach of the Bananas collegiate team for five seasons, including CPL Coach awards. of the Year for the last two. “We now have the freedom to sign any player from around the world, which will bring new excitement to Bananaland.”
Cole said the coaching staff announcements will be on Thursday. The 2023 World Tour and schedule will be released the first week of October. Bananas will visit more than 20 cities and the tour will start in February and continue until September.