The Savannah Bananas, who became a national sensation with their irreverent style of baseball, are leaving the Coastal Plain League to focus full attention on their professional barnstorming team.
Owner Jesse Cole made the announcement in a YouTube video, saying “we’re going to be able to bring the Savannah Bananas to more people in Savannah and around the world.”
The Bananas joined the summer league for college players in 2016, playing in historic Grayson Stadium following the departure of the city’s longtime minor league team.
The amateur team was an instant sensation, on and off the field. With antics that drew attention of national media and a team that has won three CPL titles, including the last two, the Bananas have sold out every home game since their inception.
Cole built on that success by launching a professional team that plays a version of the game known as “Banana Ball,” which includes a 2-hour time limit, no restrictions on the on-field feast (from wearing kilts to player who uses). stilts), and extraordinary rules such as no walks, no bunting and outs being counted when a fan catches a ball in the stands.
The response prompted Cole to go all-in on a team that can play more games in Savannah — where the owner says his team has a waiting list for tickets that has grown to 80,000 — and on the road.
The CPL team has played 24 home games in a season, a number that will grow into the 30s next year. Also, the barnstorming Bananas plan to play in approximately 25 cities in 2023.
Cole said leaving the CPL was a bittersweet but necessary decision.
“The Coastal Plain League gave us an opportunity,” he said. “It was a great trip and a lot of fun. But as we continued to look at our fans and listen to our fans and see the amazing response to Banana Ball, it became a no-brainer.”
The professional Bananas played a one-city “world tour” in 2021, added half a dozen sold-out stops to their 2022 itinerary, and recently launched a summer series at Grayson Stadium that included the live telecast of a game on ESPN2 and the premier of a five-part “Bananaland” series. .
The Bananas’ eclectic roster includes Bill Lee, the 75-year-old former major league pitcher known as “Spaceman,” who can enter games drinking beer.
During last week’s televised game, it was a scary moment when Lee collapsed while warming up in the bullpen. He stopped breathing before being revived by emergency workers and taken to hospital with what was described as a “cardiac episode.”
Cole said Lee has been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. In fact, he plans to launch again for the Bananas.
“He’s going to be a big part of our 2023 tour,” Cole said. “He’s really excited to get back there.”
Cole said he has been approached by five major league teams to discuss holding games in their stadiums. It won’t happen next year, but could be ready for 2024.
The Bananas will continue to play most of their games against the Party Animals, their version of the Harlem Globetrotters’ perennial opponent, the Washington Generals.
But Savannah also schedules games against other professional teams, most likely from independent minor leagues.
During this year’s tour, the Bananas split two games against the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Association, who became MLB’s affiliate league under minor league realignment.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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