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Savannah Bananas enthrall fans with baseball, Globetrotters-like theatrics

The Savannah Bananas baseball team are "one part traveling carnival, one part Harlem Globetrotters theatrics and one part neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name, according to J.J. Cooper of BASEBALL AMERICA. Their Banana Ball play style has "pitching and hitting and fielding, just like baseball," but everything is "focused on making the game quicker, making it more entertaining and ensuring that there is never, ever a dull moment." Games "can't take longer than about two hours and 10 minutes and often wrap up in just under two hours." But the "secret weapon" of the Banana's success are "those players." By picking teams of players who "actively want to be part of the show," the Bananas have "managed to merge the between-innings activities with the game on the field." Much like the Globetrotters, it allows the Bananas to "create a unique brand that's not easily replicable." The Bananas also are having "no trouble connecting with younger fans." The Cubs have an "MLB-best 683,000 TikTok followers," while the Bananas have "2.5 million followers -- more than the top three MLB teams combined." But few fans around the county have gotten to see a Banana Ball game in person yet, as the Bananas "made only one road trip last year." That "doesn’t mean people aren’t coming from everywhere to see the show, even if it means they have to come to the Bananas rather than the other way around." The Bananas said that "people from 38 states purchased tickets for the Banana Ball opener in Savannah this March" (BASEBALLAMERICA.com, 5/16).

OLD-FASHIONED SHAKEUP: In L.A., David Wharton writes Banana Ball moves at "breakneck pace." There are "no bunts, no visits to the mound." Wharton: "If someone in the stands catches a foul ball, the batter is out. And walks? The otherwise mundane play continues until every fielder -- even outfielders -- touches the ball." The first-base coach "dances and the team celebrates home runs by racing into the stands for high-fives." When the Bananas are in the field, they "might launch into a brief, choreographed routine between pitches, spinning and side-stepping like the Four Tops in cleats, only to resume play as if nothing happened." The team "looks like another Harlem Globetrotters at first glance," but the competition is "genuine and there is something potentially important at work." MLB execs said that they are "watching for any ideas that might make their game more 'fan-friendly.'" American Association of Professional Baseball K.C. Monarchs CEO Mark McKee after his team played the Bananas said, "I love what they've done. And it's going to just keep growing." Former MLBer and Bananas Manager Eric Byrnes directs the team in "faux leopard skin and a tartan kilt." Byrnes said, "It's Broadway meets baseball. None of this works unless we play the game. If we're not catching the baseball, throwing strikes, if we're not putting the ball in play, it's not entertaining" (L.A. TIMES, 5/17).

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