The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Savannah Bananas: reimagining baseball

Rintaro Sato
The Savannah Bananas have been immensely successful due to their unique “fans first” approach. “We’re not in the baseball business, we’re in the entertainment business,” said owner Jesse Owens in a video on the Savannah Bananas’ social media.

Bats lit on fire, players on stilts, dancing umpires. This isn’t your everyday baseball game. It’s Banana Ball.

It’s no secret that baseball has been declining in popularity, with World Series viewership steadily declining to reach all-time lows in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, game lengths are at an all-time high, with the average nine-inning match-up crossing the three-hour mark for the first time in history.

Enter the Savannah Bananas, which plays completely independently from Major League Baseball (MLB). As an exhibition team, the primary mission of the organization is to create the best possible fan experience, allowing baseball to be seen and enjoyed by a bigger audience.

“The purpose of the Bananas is to make baseball fun and more inclusive for fans. Everything we do is fans first, and everything that [team owner] Jesse Cole preaches is fans first,” said Jackson Olson, third baseman for the Bananas and a member of the inaugural MLB Creator Class.

The team accomplishes this through a series of unique rules, all designed to increase fan interaction and enjoyment.

These rules include being able to steal first base, banning mound visits and bunts, and replacing walks with “sprints,” where the hitter starts running the basepaths on ball four, and the ball only becomes live after all position players make contact with it. While these rules are made with the goal of cutting down game times while increasing action, there are some rules that are simply bananas.

The Savannah Bananas’ rise to fame was greatly helped by their strong social media presence. (Rintaro Sato)

One of these unique rules allows fan catches to be scored as outs, which allows crowd participation to impact the outcome of the game. In this way, the Bananas allow for a level of fan involvement almost unheard of in sports.

“[Banana Ball is] crazy, but it’s nonstop excitement, it’s faster than any baseball game anyone’s ever seen,” said Jesse Cole, the owner of the Bananas.

An increasingly popular part of Savannah games features the “Dancing Umpire,” Vincent Chapman. Featured prominently on social media, Chapman’s dance moves are how many fans first encounter the team.

“I first found [the Bananas] on TikTok, where an umpire was dancing after a strikeout. I was definitely confused at first, but that got me to follow the team and now I enjoy the content they create,” said Benjamin Sunahara, a Carlmont junior.

Chapman, an umpire for 24 years, first started dancing during games in his time working in the Texas Youth Dixie League.

“I started dancing in between innings whenever parents would bring music to the games. Fast forward 15 years, and I had a video go viral on Facebook and EllenTube and the Bananas saw it last year and messaged me,” Chapman said.

Chapman has accumulated a large social media following of his own as well, with 66.8K followers on TikTok (@dancingumpire) as of October 2022.

Another well-known social media presence that has recently joined the Bananas is baseball content creator Jackson Olson, a member of MLB’s inaugural Creator Class. With his 851.9K followers on his TikTok (@jacksonolson_), Olson first caught the eye of the Bananas using his online platform.

“I posted a TikTok that talked about how cool the Bananas were, so then the owner reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, if we can ever work together, that’d be awesome,’ and now I’m starting at third base for them,” Olson said.

Olson was by no means a stranger to high-level baseball, as he played four years of college baseball at Hartford and Stetson, even receiving an offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks in his junior year. Unfortunately, his career was derailed in part due to the shortened 2020 MLB draft. However, he has now found a welcome home in Savannah.

“I’m just so thankful that I found this team and they found me and it was just a perfect situation to be led into,” Olson said.

Numerous TikToks by the Savannah Bananas (@thesavbananas) featuring Olson have gone viral, including videos of the third baseman doing food reviews mid-game and dancing to “From Now On” from “The Greatest Showman.”

@thesavbananas Replying to @nadiatestroet THIS. IS. THE. GREATEST. SHOW. #savannahbananas #baseball #bananaball #greatestshowman #fy #viral #jacksonolson ? original sound – thesavbananas

Olson, who has been able to visit 20 major league stadiums in the last four months, believes that some of the unique characteristics of Banana Ball could eventually be added to the MLB.

“Maybe not in the next five years, maybe not in the next 30 years, but I think a lot of the rules could be implemented at a very good rate, cause we have had some really fun ones,” Olson said.

While the Bananas have previously played in the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate summer league, the team recently announced that they will now fully commit to playing Banana Ball full-time. As part of this new direction, the Bananas have announced that they are going on tour in 2023, visiting 33 cities in 22 states. Both Olson and Chapman have confirmed their participation in the games.

Among these cities is San Jose, where the Bananas will be hosted by Excite Ballpark, the home field of the San Jose Giants.

When asked about the tour, Olson kept it short and simple.

“To all the fans coming out in 2023, get ready to go Bananas,” Olson said.

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About the Contributor
Rintaro Sato
Rintaro Sato, Segment Producer
Rintaro Sato is a junior in his second year of journalism and he hopes to bring his love of sports and research to Scot Scoop. Sato plays baseball at Carlmont as well as at GamePrep Baseball Academy and he enjoys watching and following various other sports along with baseball in his free time. Sato is also one of the junior class vice presidents for the Scots. Check out his journalism website here: LINK

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The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.
Savannah Bananas: reimagining baseball