“Baseball players do not dance”? Savannah bananas demand distinction.

Whatever your connection (or lack thereof) to baseball, bananas are here for you to enjoy. While major league games are getting slower and slower, even loyal fans are disappointed – Don Mettingley, the manager of the Miami Marlins, recently said the sport is “sometimes unsightly” – bananas are focused on fun. To an audience like me, they are the most visible baseball team.

When bananas are not dancing, they wear sticks, crowd surfing on a plate, or sing karaoke. A total of 120 performers are added to the circus, including Pep Band and the “Father Bodi Fan Squad”. Part of the game of baseball can also look different. The Banana Board team, a summer port for student athletes, plays by the usual rules. But the organization also has a professional section that organizes “Banana Ball” exhibition games, which includes a two-hour time limit and changes to the rules designed to make the game faster and more lively.

The banana method works on many fronts. While the Oakland Athletics Games sometimes attract less than 3,000 fans, the Bananas have sold all of their home games at Savannah’s 4,000-seat Grayson Stadium since the team was founded in 2016. @Thesavbananas on TikTok has more than 2.5 million followers than Yankee. And Metz together. This summer, streaming service ESPN + will air “Bananaland,” a TV series about how the team created what Promo calls “the best sports show.” And oh, by the way: the team won the 2021 Coastal Lowland League Championship.

“Most baseball fans do not put the fans in the first place, so we all put it that way,” said Jesse Cole, 38, the team owner (and his host on the pitch, his yellow tuxedo is easily noticeable). “We want people who say ‘I do not like baseball’ to say, ‘I have to see a banana.’

Cole’s style of baseball evangelism precedes bananas. At the age of 23, he was appointed general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies, a failed beach league team in Gastonia, NC. Trying to capture the enthusiasm of the fans, he started experimenting with pointless promotions, inspired by the PT Barnum and Walt Disney show. “I did not want to study the baseball industry,” he said. “I wanted to learn from the biggest entertainers out there.”

Dance came to play the lead role in his baseball show. “People liked it because it was completely unexpected,” Cole said. Baseball players do not dance. Although some members of the team refrained from being asked to study choreography, the main crew began to perform simple routines between inns. “Grizzly’s third game, I’m going through the crowd, the couple is talking, and the wife is saying, ‘Shut up, darling, they’re going to dance!'” Cole said. “Then I thought, ‘OK, we have something here.’

After refining his first fan entertainment strategy with the Grizzlies a few years later, Cole and his wife, Emily, learned that the Savannah Small League team was leaving the historic Grayson Stadium in the city. In 2016, they leased Saburtalo Square and made it the home of their second team franchise. Note-Our name, from the fan competition, set the tone for the venture: Savannah Bananas has become a trendy topic on Twitter since it was revealed as the winning work.

“With bananas, we were just continuing the dance experience – or, as Walt Disney would say, ‘extra’ – the dance experience,” Jesse Cole said. One of the earliest additions was Banana Nanas, a dance group of women over the age of 65 that offers language refinement to the conventional dance team. Later came the Dancing Referees – who performed Asher’s “Yeah” – and, for the Banana Ball Games, the Dancing Referees. (Panel games require league-provided officials.)

The dance of the first base coaches has become a particularly beloved tradition of bananas. “The pitch is a stage,” Cole said, “and there are a lot of first base coaches on that stage, so I want to dance.” The original dancer first base coach gave marks to the players between dances. Now the role is almost pure performance: it is currently played by 27-year-old Makeo Harrison, a charismatic hip-hop dancer and teacher who has never played baseball. Harrison, who also choreographs most of the players’s dances, himself becomes a TikTok star with his impressive acrobatics and sleek grooves.

However, the star of the viral clip “Flower Waltz” is 25-year-old Zach Frongillo, director of banana fun and a replacement for Harrison. A former baseball player who has a BFA in dance, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Frongillo brings a dancing perspective to Bananaland tales, depicts the entertaining components of each game, and controls the performers.

Videos of Frongillo’s performances have garnered millions of views on TikTok and Twitter. “It was nice to see the brand find this new group of people, because the TikTok algorithm does not normally serve baseball videos to ballet dancers,” he said in an interview. After watching one of the clips, the director of the Savannah Ballet Theater turned to Frongillo and asked if he was ready to replace the dancer in the next performance. Frongillo has now appeared several times as a guest in the company.

Social media has become a crucial marketing tool for bananas, helping them grow into a rare team team with a national fan base. And dancing was crucial to their success, especially on TikTok, where the team publishes new content almost daily.

“We try everything and I mean everything on TikTok, but videos that get hundreds of thousands or millions of views, they all dance,” Cole said. Frongillo and Cole began creating dance content that would play online as well as on the pitch – for example, when players try a TikTok dance challenge in the middle of an at-bat, which now happens during the third inning of each banana ball. The game.

As banana tricks gained more attention, the team began to draw players who are excited about doing choreography on the field. Frongillo said he had an email from prospective Bananas announcing their desire to dance. “At this point, the guys who come in know that when they go to Bananaland, things get a little weird,” Harrison said. “They are ready for it.”

The weirdness didn’t hurt the banana game. Kurt Sproll, an assistant professor of management at South Georgia University, has studied bananas over many seasons to see how their approach would affect player performance. His data showed that the Bananas players were the only ones in the Coastal Plain League who showed an apparent improvement in their average baseline and fatigue percentage each year.

Kyle Luiggs, 24, who played on Banana Square as a college student and now plays in his professional department, said the team’s focus on fun helps him cope with the demands of the game, which can be intensely psychological. “I always played better during the summer here than during the school year,” he said. “If I’m more focused on not ruining my dance routine than giving up three home runs, I’ll end up playing better.”

You probably will not see a dancing coach in Saburtalo of the Big League soon. But Baseball’s major league officials know that many fans want more excitement. The main game of the major league now lasts more than three hours, with an increasing rate of strikes and frequent changes of pitching slowing down the pace of the game. To speed up and stimulate action on the pitch, the organization began to make experimental changes to the rules – from pitch hours to automated ball kick systems (or robot referees) – in its small, independent leagues.

“I think putting fans first is what we and all leagues are trying to do,” said Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations at the Major League Baseball. “But we are obviously also competing with the best athletes on the face of the earth. So we try to balance fun and competition. ”

Changes to the league rules have irritated some baseball players, including Alva Noe, author of the book Infinite Baseball and a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Noah – who was a philosopher-choreographer at the residence of William Forsyth’s former company – argues that the seemingly tiring moments of sports are often filled with quiet dramas. “In baseball, so much detail, nuance and intellect can be planted like a glacier,” he said. “I think it’s a lot like dancing that way.”

Noah does not like bananas. “I see why there is a desire to make the experience more alive,” he said. “I think the question is, can you take the dance aside, just have a good time and then really See Baseball? ”

Cole is largely uninterested in the opinions of baseball traditionalists. “I’ve heard it all – that bananas are a joke, that we’re destroying sports,” Cole said. “I think it is important to know who you are for and who you are not. I think I brought some purists? ᲐTwenty percent. But we are for that “People who just want to have fun.”

For them, bananas are planning even more dances. Frongillo hopes to organize a “Dancing with the Stars” style competition this summer, in which players will mate with professional dancers from the Savannah Ballet Theater and other local ensembles. He is also together with a Children’s dance troupe To fill a banana nana.

Cole is considering adding a half time show. “I know, this is baseball, so it makes no sense!” she said. “But we could all dance – the whole team, all the characters. Can we dance the whole stadium? ”

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