THE FEEL-GOOD HIT of the summer is without a doubt the Savannah Bananas.
The wildly successful new college summer league team selling out nearly every game in Grayson Stadium isn’t just a marketing lollapalooza.
They offer some concrete, pragmatic, teachable moments about our little town, about things we can do to make it better.
If you’ve been to a Bananas game, you know what I’m talking about: It ain’t anything like the old Sand Gnats.
If you haven’t, here’s the deal:
It’s college players playing real baseball, i.e. wood bats instead of the ridiculous aluminum bats the NCAA forces them to use in the regular season when they’re back at school.
College Students + No NCAA = More Fun. So once a game, Bananas players come out between innings and shake their butts to “Apache (Jump On It).”
Later, players will come into the stands with a red rose to give away to ladies of all ages and descriptions, a particularly sweet touch.
The players—not subject to the brutal on-the-bus, off-the-bus, what-town-is-this-again grind of the typical minor league pro season—are clearly happy to do what they do and enjoy the crowd interaction. From what I’ve seen, it’s difficult for a kid not to come away with a Banana’s autograph or two or three.
Indeed, there are more kids, and more younger kids, at a Bananas game than I ever saw at a Sand Gnats game.
The all-you-can-eat wristband option makes it an affordable night out to feed a family. You can of course enjoy, you guessed it, chocolate-covered bananas. (And the alcohol license is vital to getting adults out, same as with the Sand Gnats.)
While everyone said they hated the name “Bananas” when first announced, the genius of the moniker is apparent in the way every piece of marketing collateral, every color scheme, every silly game for the fans between innings ties into the familiar long yellow fruit in some way.
(Including some mild double entendres for the adults to snicker over while the kids enjoy the goofiness.)
The young owner of the team, Jesse Cole, spends each game walking the stands suited up as a sort of bright yellow Willie Wonka, taking pics with fans with his selfie stick, throwing out free T-shirts, and pumping up the crowd.
The concessions and ticketing staff are all new hires and all smiles. They are as perky and personable as some of the former concessions workers at Grayson were, um, blasé, to put it charitably.
While technically the team mascot is Split—a hypermasculine banana wearing Oakleys and a pro wrestler’s cape—the real mascot is Daisy the Bat Dog, an adorable little rescue pup who goes for a walk through the stands.
And oh, yeah, about the games themselves: Surprisingly competitive and surprisingly fun.
Because the pitching, while pretty good, is still a bit under pro standards, there’s lots of offense.
How much offense? The last game I went to the Bananas won 26-4. Not a typo! (The manual scoreboard at Grayson only goes up to 20. So by the seventh inning they had to just leave the 20 up there.)
The single thing that strikes me most about what the Bananas have done is what you see now in the ground level concourse: They installed a Walk of Fame honoring six fan-picked iconic players who played in Grayson Stadium.
Names like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig. The very biggest names, names we’ve known forever that played here.
But curiously, names which neither the City nor any of the other teams to play in Grayson ever took the effort to honor in this manner.
Such a simple thing, right? A real no-brainer.
In the decades of minor league ball in Savannah, why didn’t anyone think of honoring those famous visiting players before? It seems so obvious, painfully so, not only from a historical perspective but from a marketing perspective.
But that’s one of the lessons the Bananas have for Savannah: Don’t Screw Up The No-Brainers. Or in this case it might be more on-point to say, “Go For The Low-Hanging Fruit.”
Other lessons the Bananas teach the Savannah business and political community:
Always Be Nice. It costs nothing to smile and be pleasant to customers. But for some reason it’s becoming less and less common in this city known for hospitality. I can think of vanishingly few restaurants and stores in Savannah who aren't in some need of this advice.
Offer True Value. Turns out Savannah really will enthusiastically support a baseball team—just not the Sand Gnats! The Bananas’ focus on providing lots of entertainment for little money is the ticket. It seems the dubious “prestige” of being associated with the Major League farm system is completely immaterial to us.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously. And I don’t just mean Banana costumes.
Not long ago City leaders pushed a brand-new, taxpayer-funded, big-city style stadium downtown to host the Savannah Sand Gnats, who had trouble selling out little old Grayson Stadium.
Build it and they will come, was the mantra. Give baseball to the tourists and charge them, and taxpayers, accordingly.
Given the Bananas’ success today, can you imagine if we’d gone ahead with that? The mind reels.
Savannah isn’t a shiny new big-city stadium kind of place. And that’s OK.
Savannah’s the kind of place where families can go enjoy themselves on a hot summer night, cheering the thwack of ball on bat, watching the grounds crew in banana outfits lip-sync to boy band tunes, all within the walls of a humble but historic place walked by the friendly ghosts of the biggest giants of the great American game.
The lesson of the Bananas is: We should try and be the best Savannah we can be.