‘Baseball Players Don’t Dance’? The Savannah Bananas Beg to Differ.

TikTok choreography, dancing umpires, a ballet-trained first-base coach: This collegiate summer league team has amassed a following by leaning into entertainment.

By Margaret FuhrerMay 31, 2022, 10:00 a.m. ET

How does a dance writer from the Northeast end up fixated on a collegiate summer league baseball team from Savannah, Ga.?

A few months ago, a video of a baseball coach dancing to “Waltz of the Flowers” — concluding with a virtuosic series of pirouettes — showed up in my Twitter feed. Before long, I started seeing choreographed content from the team on TikTok: an umpire doing ’N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” dance after calling a strikeout. A batter “hitting the Quan” before scoring a base hit. A pitcher, second baseman, shortstop and center fielder dancing the “Cool for the Summer” TikTok challenge during an at-bat. And there was more ballet.

Everywhere I scrolled, there were the Savannah Bananas — dancing.

The team mascot before the game with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Whatever your connection (or lack thereof) to baseball, the Bananas are here to entertain you. While major-league games are getting longer and slower, frustrating even devoted fans — Don Mattingly, the manager of the Miami Marlins, recently said the sport “sometimes is unwatchable” — the Bananas are focused squarely on fun. For viewers like me, they’re the most watchable team in baseball.

When the Bananas aren’t dancing, they’re wearing stiltscrowd surfing to the plate or singing karaoke on the field. A cast of 120 entertainers adds to the circus, including a pep band and a “dad bod cheerleading squad.” The baseball part of the game can look different, too. The Bananas’ collegiate team, a summer harbor for student athletes, plays by conventional rules. But the organization also has a professional division that stages exhibition “Banana Ball” games, featuring a two-hour time limit and rule changes designed to make play faster and livelier.

The Banana method is working, on multiple fronts. While the Oakland Athletics games sometimes attract fewer than 3,000 fans, the Bananas have sold out every home game at Savannah’s 4,000-seat Grayson Stadium since the team’s founding in 2016. On TikTok, @thesavbananas have upward of 2.5 million followers, more than the Yankees and Mets combined. This summer, the streaming service ESPN+ will air “Bananaland,” a series about how the team created what a promo calls “the greatest show in sports.” And oh, by the way: The team won the 2021 Coastal Plain League championship.

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Dakota Albritton, called Stilts, pitching against the Kansas City Monarchs.

“Most baseball doesn’t put fans first, so we went all in on that,” said Jesse Cole, 38, the team’s owner (and its on-field host, easy to spot in his yellow tuxedo). “We want people who used to say ‘I don’t like baseball’ to say, ‘I have to see the Bananas.’”

Cole’s style of baseball evangelism predates the Bananas. At 23, he was made general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies, a failing Coastal Plain League team in Gastonia, N.C. Trying to drum up fan enthusiasm, he started experimenting with zany promotions, inspired by the showmanship of P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney. “I didn’t want to learn from the baseball industry,” he said. “I wanted to learn from the greatest entertainers out there.”