Jesse Cole was true to his word; his Savannah Bananas One City World Tour, a two-game, two-night series at Hank Aaron Stadium that began Friday night, was indeed “circus meets baseball.” And the sold out crowd at The Hank — based on COVID-19 restricted attendance — seemed to be fine with that arrangement.
More than one person at The Hank on Friday — there is another sold out game slated tonight (Saturday) — commented that it was nice to see a good-sized crowd once again at the former home of the Mobile BayBears. One even suggested perhaps it would lead to minor league baseball making a return to The Hank.
That may be asking a bit much. But certainly the crowd Friday night seemed to be enjoying the performance, even if baseball was used more as a platform for the entertainment aspect than in actually drawing attention to the players and the rules of the game.
That’s because normal baseball rules were tossed out long ago in the Banana Ball, as Cole describes it, that was scheduled to be played. In fact, that’s the whole idea.
The emphasis was placed not on the ability of the players, but on the degree of fun available. Many a crazy moment was presented during pregame and as the game was progressing, all for one purpose — to have a little fun.
In truth, there may never be a better audience for a Bananas game as the event offered many in the area the first opportunity, now that COVID-19 vaccine shots are available and some restrictions have been lessened, and the fact some people simply feel safer these days stepping out of their homes to gather with others, to go out to a game.
Fun and entertainment was exactly what they were seeking, and the Bananas and the shenanigans associated with the game was aimed directly at delivering that for those who were on hand.
The opposing team was named the Party Animals, and the team made its entrance by walking in from BayBear Mountain — the raised grassy area behind the left field fence — climbing over the fence and landing in left field and walking toward their third-base dugout with bats raised.
The first pitch involved a 12-year-old celebrating his birthday and, with Mayor Sandy Stimpson standing nearby, he threw the “first banana” toward the catcher at home plate. It wasn’t a strike, but of course that didn’t matter.
A youngster was selected from the crowd to face the Party Animals pitcher and defenders in the field. With two strikes he made contact, and the Party Animals made sure to make enough errors that the youngster could circle the bases for a home run, with Bananas players running alongside him, encouraging him every step of the way.
A UFC-style weigh-in was held at home plate, complete with doctors office-style scales, a Party Animals player weighing in at 228 pounds and the Bananas’ player, Wild Bill, weighing in at 267 pounds. He made his way to the scales after being encircled by his teammates by shredding his t-shirt and flexing his muscles in true UFC fashion. The two players then had a stare-down for a few moments but couldn’t hold back smiles.
The official Man-Nanas, the Dad Bod cheerleading squad, made an appearance on the field and in the stands, the Bananas pep band played throughout the pre-game and the game itself, a baby was dressed in a banana costume and lifted high above the head of the child’s mother while Bananas players surrounded them and paid tribute.
There was no pre-recorded National Anthem. Instead, Cole said everyone would sing the Anthem, and without musical accompaniment, that’s what happened, though it started with the first line of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” then slipped into the Anthem.
The Bananas uniforms featured yellow jerseys and yellow pants and included the player’s nickname on the back above his jersey number. Some of the nicknames included Wild Bill, Daddy Shark, Puddin, Vitamin Deeb, D-Mac, Bubba Lance and Sailor Man.
Former BayBears batboy Wade Vadakin was on hand, dressed in a Bananas uniform.
The Party Animals’ uniforms were black, sleeveless jerseys and black pants with pink numbers and trim.
Throughout the game, players would engage with the fans, either going up into the crowd to toss T-shirts or tossing baseballs from the field to youngsters. One Bananas player called a youngster to the edge of the entrance of the first-base dugout and played catch with him for a few minutes, then gave the youngster the baseball.
The bases, of course, were yellow.
There was no bunting, no stepping out of the batter’s box, a player could steal first base, if a fan caught a foul ball it was an out and there were any number of other “rules” established for the game, including a two-hour time limit.
Prior to the game, both teams lined up on the respective sidelines and took a knee and raised a bat in tribute to the late Hank Aaron. A voiceover of Milo Hamilton’s call of Aaron’s famous 715th home run was played over the public address system, along with a short soundbite of Aaron talking about the historic moment. On the scoreboard, the at-bat designation read 44 in honor of Aaron’s number with the Braves.
All in all, a good time was had at The Hank.
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