I’m Going Bananas

August 19, 2022. It’s a Friday night but it’s not a go out-have a blast partying kind of night. My kid is sick so it’s a stay at home-watch TV kind of night. I fire up some Hulu, which unless ESPN or TBS has a game on that night, is kind of a baseball free zone. But there in the suggestions I see something called Banana Ball. The Savannah Bananas taking on the Party Animals.

I’m intrigued. The description there on Hulu states ‘it’s baseball, but it’s part circus and part professional wrestling…’, more intrigued. I click it on. It looks like baseball of the minor league type. Why would minor league baseball be on TV? Then the differences start to show. I see a ball 3 and the announcer says that if he gets a 4th ball then it’s time for a sprint. Sprint? There aren’t walks in Banana Ball. After ball 4 the batter takes off hitting as many bases as he can before all 7 position players touch the ball. 

That’s about all I’ve got in just a few minutes. That and the fact that the Bananas are up 2-0 already after walking off the first 2 innings. I’ve really got more questions than answers at that moment. That’s all I’m going to see for now because my wife and sick kid aren’t in the mood for baseball. I can’t quit thinking about what exactly Banana Ball is. Internet here I come!

A quick Google search of Banana Ball gets me to some video packages from ESPN and the CBS Sunday Morning show. What I learn very quickly is that Banana Ball is a couple years old now, the idea of Bananas team owner Jesse Cole. An idea to make baseball fun for fans again. 

Those videos lead me to the Bananas website, thesavannahbanans.com. It’s chock full of information about the team which is a real baseball team playing in the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate summer league. But there’s also everything Banana Ball too. 

Here are the rules to Banana Ball 

As a lifelong baseball fan, even a traditionalist in many ways, I was scratching my head for a little bit. There were some things I am 100% behind:

No walks allowed

No mound visits allowed

No stepping out

Some things I was undecided about:

If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out

Two hour time limit

No bunting

And some things I simply didn’t get:

Every inning counts

Batters can steal first

1 on 1 showdown tiebreaker

I’ll hit what I’m 100% behind first. I already knew, and have already covered, the no walks. How on ball 4 that all position players have to touch the ball before they can try to get the batter out. The next two, no mound visits and no stepping out are simply things that slow down baseball and are also some of its most boring aspects. So with Banana Ball they are simply gone.

Gone also is bunting, which brings us to the rules of the game I’m undecided on. Bunting is a bit of a drag, unless it’s a speedster like Ricky Henderson, Vince Coleman, or Trea Turner who can routinely turn a bunt into a single. The fan catching a foul ball can also be a head scratcher but after Jesse Cole explained that it was a way for fans to actually be a part of the game. You can move this rule into those I support now.

That same rules explanation helped me understand the two hour time limit and if a fan catches a foul ball it’s an out. Catching a foul ball is the dream of every baseball fan ever. (Side note, if you are sitting near me at a baseball game and a foul comes my way I’ll trample all of your kids, your grandmother, and my grandmother too in order to catch that ball) So now as a fan you wouldn’t just get that souvenir, you’d help the team out by recording an out. Not sure how that would be scored but who cares I caught a foul ball. 

As for the two hour time limit, I was confused at first. How do you play 9 innings in under two hours? The simple answer is maybe you don’t. This was implemented by Jesse Cole after he noticed that no matter how much fun he tried to inject into the game it would still drag on and by the 7th or 8th inning, and over 2 hours of play, fans were leaving. With Banana Ball you know it’s only going to be a two hour game. Without mound visits and batters stepping out to drag out the game it actually speeds the game up. In the first trial of Banana Ball they got through 9 innings in 1 hour and 30 minutes. 

But what if it’s tied and what the heck is every inning counts? These two I didn’t initially get at all but with some digging these two rules are pretty cool too. 

What is the biggest celebration in any baseball game? The walk-off home run or hit. Everyone mobs the run scorer or the hitter that drove that run it. Toss some Gatorade on him, lots of helmet slaps, and just go BANANAS! When every inning counts, every inning has the chance to be a walk-off and have those insane celebrations. If the Bananas keep the opponent off the scoreboard in the top of the 1st then the first Banana up to bat in the bottom cracks a moonshot homer, inning over. Bananas score 1 for winning the inning and you’ve got bedlam at home plate. I can get on board with that. 

Now back to what happens if there’s a tie after 9 innings or the 2 hour mark. The 1 on 1 showdown tiebreaker. Batter faces pitcher and one fielder. Batter homers or out runs the fielder to score and they win. Pitcher K’s the batter or him and the fielder tag the runner out then it’s off to the bottom of the frame where the home team has a shot to do the same. Tied after the first extra frame, well then you remove the fielder and it’s simple pitcher vs batter. How cool would it be if the pitcher had to run into deep right after the ball while the batter is chugging around the bases then try to tag him out? This absolutely has to be the coolest way to resolve a tie in any other sport.

The only other thing I haven’t touched on yet is the pro wrestling/circus mash up. Go to any Savannah Bananas social media page and you’ll find one video after another of the team bringing some original flair to the game. A guy who plays on stilts. A guy doing the splits in the batter’s box. Acrobatic catches in the field. Riding a Power Wheels like car while coming up to bat. A pitcher on the mound pitching in his underwear. The whole team playing in kilts. All of it allows players to bring something new, different, and fun to the game. To the point you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting what they could do next. 

Not one single bit of the new rules or players out to entertain the fans takes away from the fact that real baseball is being played. Pitcher gets the ball and delivers the next pitch within 3 seconds. There’s no downtime in Banana Ball. There’s always something happening, sometimes covered by a drone camera giving some new and amazing shots. 

The more I read, see, and learn about the Savannah Bananas and Banana Ball the more I want. I never want to watch a baseball game again. I want Banana Ball on every night of the week! I want a Banana Ball team in every city in America! 

Let me close with this. An apology to Jesse Cole. I have watched Bananaland Episode 1 and you aren’t just a second coming of Bill Veeck. I (poorly)wrote this to try to spread the word about Banana Ball. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time talking about who you are, but I believe there is so much about you and your love of baseball that can simply be summed up by the name of the company you founded, Fans First Entertainment. As a sports fan in general, and baseball fan in particular I offer you a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all you are doing to put Fans First.