Anyone who knows me would tell you I am a baseball fanatic. I love the game, its history, its personalities and what I feel is the perfection of a beautiful sport. So you can imagine that when I first heard of the Savannah Bananas – a touring baseball team using unorthodox rules and comedic antics – I was skeptical.
But the Bananas soon proved me wrong and after Saturday’s game at Birmingham’s historic Rickwood Field, I am not only over my skepticism, but I am now a big fan of “Bananaball.”
Want to know more about the Savannah Bananas? Here are few insights:
1. The team was born from loss
The Bananas were formed after the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League moved from Savannah in 2015, leaving the city without a baseball team for the first time in more than 30 years.
In 2016,Savannah was one fo the cities picked to host a team in the Coastal Plains League – a wood-bat collegiate summer league – and the Savannah Bananas were born.
Baseball fans crestfallen about the loss of the Sand Gnats embraced the Bananas, and their fanbase grew. But that was not the whole story. The team started playing exhibition games with alternate rules and a whole new team was created.
2. They play with some interesting baseball rules
As I said, the Bananas are playing baseball games (for the most part) but the rules are drastically different from a regular ball game. For instance:
- The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets one point, except in the 9th inning when every run counts as one point. If an inning ends with one team at five points and a lead, that team wins.
- A two-hour time limit on games. If a team is leading at that time, that team wins.
- No bunting. A batter who attempts a bunt is ejected from the game.
- Batters are not allowed to step out of the batters box; a violation is an automatic strike.
- Batters are allowed to “steal” first base in the case of a wild pitch or passed ball at any time during the at-bat.
- No mound visits are allowed.
- After the fourth ball, the batter is allowed to advance as far around the bases as he can. The ball must be sequentially thrown to all of the fielders apart from the pitcher, starting with the catcher; the ball remains dead, with the batter-runner not liable to be put out, until all fielders apart from the pitcher and catcher have touched the ball.
- Ties are broken by what the Bananas call a “1 on 1 showdown” which can last at least three rounds. Each team selects a pitcher and hitter to face off, with the pitching team having only the pitcher, catcher, and a single fielder during the first round of the showdown.
3. It’s more than just a baseball game
If you come to a Savannah Bananas game expecting to just watch baseball, you are in for a huge surprise. In fact, the baseball game is really just part of the show.
Throughout the game and especially before the game (we’ll get to that later), both the Bananas and their traditional opponent, the Party Animals, dance, perform, show off, celebrate, do flips and add in all kinds of entertainment (you get the picture).
You know how, in a regular baseball game, a batter may have a walk-up song that stops playing when the batter gets to the plate? Well in Bananaball, the music never stops. In fact, the music is loud and fun and crowd participation in singing the songs being played is encouraged.
However, something I found out during Saturday’s game after talking with members of the Bananas staff is that the actual baseball play is not scripted or contrived.
I had originally thought that the Savannah Bananas were just a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters, with the Party Animals filling the role of the hapless Washington Generals. That’s not the case.
In fact, the Party Animals actually had a 7-game win streak against the Bananas at one point this year. The players on both teams are competitive and they are actually trying to win the game in between entertaining the crowd with the extracurricular stuff.
4. When you go to a game, arrive early
I don’t just say to arrive early because the line to get in will stretch around the block (it does). I say that because if you don’t you’ll miss a pretty significant part of the show.
Both teams not only are available to sign autographs before, during and after the game, but they get the crowd involved in all kinds of fun and entertaining antics and on-field contests.
Doors usually open about two hours before the game starts, giving fans a chance to buy Bananas merchandise, meet players and watch the pregame show.
5. You never know who you might see on the field
The Bananas are known to insert some former Major League Baseball stars into their lineup here and there. For instance, in Saturday’s game at Rickwood, former MLB All-Star pitcher Bill “The Spaceman” Lee took the mound for an inning.
That’s right, the 76-year-old former Red Sox pitcher pitched the 6th inning of the game. Other former MLB players that have taken the field for the Bananas include Johnny Damon, Eric Byrnes, Jonny Gomes and Josh Reddick, among others.
Catch a Savannah Bananas game and see for yourself
You can catch a Bananas game at their home park, Grayson Stadium in Savannah, where they play 30 games during the season. The remaining games on their schedule are scattered throughout the country.
This season, the team made stops in Birmingham and Montgomery, and expect to come back to the state next season, perhaps adding extra dates and locations (Huntsville and Mobile, perhaps?) in Alabama.
Get more stories like this delivered straight to your inbox—Sign up for our FREE newsletter.