The Savannah Bananas, who became a national sensation with their irreverent style of baseball, are leaving the Coastal Plain League to focus on their professional barnstorming team.
Owner Jesse Cole made the announcement in a YouTube video, saying, “We will 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 at historic Grayson Stadium following the departure of the city’s longtime minor league team.
The amateur team was an instant sensation, both on and off the field. With antics capturing the attention of the national media and a team winning 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 pro team that plays a version of the game known as “Banana Ball”, which includes a 2 hour time limit, no restrictions on the revelry on the field (from wearing kilts to a player who stilts), and unusual rules such as no walks, no buntings and outs are 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 played 24 home games per season, a number that will grow into the 1930s next year. Also, the barnstorming Bananas plan to play in about 25 cities by 2023.
Cole said leaving the CPL was a bittersweet but necessary decision.
“The Coastal Plain League has given us a chance,” he said. “It was a great trip and a lot of fun. But as we continued to watch 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 “world tour” of one city in 2021, added half a dozen sold-out stops to their itinerary in 2022, and recently launched a summer series at Grayson Stadium with the live broadcast of a game on ESPN2 and the premiere of a five-part series. series ‘Bananaland’.
The Bananas’ eclectic roster includes Bill Lee, the 75-year-old former Major League pitcher known as “Spaceman,” who is known to do games where he has a beer.
During the televised match last week, there was a scary moment when Lee collapsed while warming up in the bullpen. He stopped breathing before being resuscitated by rescuers and taken to a hospital with what was described as a ‘heart attack’.
Cole said Lee has been released from the hospital and expects to make a full recovery. In reality, he plans to pitch again for the bananas.
“He’s going to be a big part of our 2023 tour,” Cole said. “He’s very excited to get out again.”
Cole said five major league teams have reached out to him to talk about holding games in their stadiums. It won’t happen next year, but could be on tap for 2024.
The Bananas will continue to play most of their games against the Party Animals, their version of the Harlem Globetrotters’ eternal opponent, the Washington Generals.
But Savannah also plans 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 an MLB affiliate league under minor league realignment.
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