Savannah Bananas baseball players excel in the Coastal Plain League
Conventional wisdom dictates that a baseball team do everything they can to keep their players focused on the game.
No pre-match parade for fans. No running across the grandstand after scoring the first run. No dancing at the top of the canoes.
The Savannah Bananas, whose antics have garnered national attention thanks to tens of millions of views on social media, are not a conventional ball club. If they get the chance, they’ll do the opposite of what’s normal in baseball.
“I ran through the crowd, hung out with the fans and then (coaches) had to come and yell at me to warm up to go and pitch,” said reliever Nolan Daniel from Dublin, in his third summer with the Bananas. of the Coastal Plains League.
What has become customary for Savannah’s collegiate summer league team would not fly with Daniel’s varsity team at Purdue.
“They wouldn’t let me back in the dugout,” Daniel said with a laugh.
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The team calls it “flip the switch,” with players switching between baseball and entertaining responsibilities without losing focus, energy and enthusiasm.
And – going against accepted beliefs – without their baseball productivity suffering in the least. These guys can really play the game and believe their performance improves with the added workload of showtime.
“I feel there’s a lot of pressure in baseball and a lot of downtime,” said third baseman Beau Brewer, a Bananas rookie and, like Daniel, one of eight All-Star selections in the league. PLC. “It’s a mental game. There’s a lot of you against yourself in baseball. Being a banana, there’s a lot of things that take your mind off the seriousness of the sport. You get all those nerves out. You laugh and smile. Everyone plays better when they’re nice and loose.”
Call it addition by distraction. You can’t lament a typing error when your mind is busy achieving your goals during a dance routine.
“When they focus more on ‘Man, I gotta figure this dance out’ rather than being stressed out about playing the game, the game becomes easier and they can relax a bit more because there’s something else that stresses them out a little bit more,” said Tyler Gillum, in his fifth season as Bananas head coach.
“They can slow down their heart rate. Those pressure situations in a game turn into a normal situation.”
What’s normal for the Bananas is to win, including the CPL titles in their inaugural 2016 season and in 2021. Savannah will defend her crown this postseason, having already clinched a playoff berth by winning the West Division first half title.
The Bananas have the second-best overall rating in the league (28-10, 0.737 through Monday), including 16-2 at home where they deliver the full Bananas experience versus mundane road games that follow more traditional lines .
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What happens before more than 4,000 spectators fill Grayson Stadium may be a circus where a baseball game breaks out, but it’s no gimmick. The base is baseball, and the Bananas’ credibility — silly name, rhyming and all — rests on their ability to hit, run, throw, catch, pitch, and win.
“If it’s bad baseball, then nobody cares,” Gillum said. “In the past, when I first got the job in 2018, all the other coaches were like, ‘How do you like coaching a team that doesn’t care about baseball?’ I always used to laugh at that because we were winning back then too. ‘Oh, we’re 17-4, so we care a lot about the baseball side too.'”
Gillum said opposing coaches don’t talk much about the Bananas brand because they focus on their own teams. These baseball competitors may not want their players to perform as entertainers, but they envy the home attendance numbers.
“I think more than anything, when you’re in it, you want to be in it; when you’re against it, you’re glad you don’t have to,” Gillum said.
Entertain at home games
The CPL is a bus league, with matches almost every day. Gillum’s team will arrive at a competitor’s ballpark in time to practice batting and take the infield, then he will wonder for the 50 or so minutes before the 7 p.m. start what to do do with downtime.
That’s because the Bananas’ pre-game routine at Grayson Stadium is wall-to-wall with crowd favorites such as “Banana Baby” and “Home Run Hitter” fan-attendance promos as well as the intro. new sketches.
The team is just getting started – with singing, dancing and more awkwardness throughout a nine-inning match.
“If I was somebody playing the Bananas here,” Daniel speculated, “I’d be like, ‘Man, we gotta beat these guys. They’re out there dancing all the time. and they always kick tails.’ “
Home-court advantage was taken to a more intense level, with electric crowds doubling the size of the attendance averages closest to the CPL. This sharp contrast could make the sound volume much louder for opponents.
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“Nobody likes to play here,” Indiana All-Star wide receiver Stanley of Cumming said of opposing teams. “The reason no one likes playing here is because of the incredible energy the fans bring. It’s hard to counter.”
Albany starting pitcher Jared Donaldson, a Bananas rookie and a CPL All-Star, thinks Bananas players have it easier than their counterparts despite having extra duties. He credits fans with what could otherwise be a long, hot job all summer long.
“The fans, who have 4,500 viewers a night, bring you energy,” said the right-hander, a spring graduate from Georgia Southwestern. “You want to do it for them, put on a show for them and entertain them. They go out every night. It goes hand in hand. They cheer you on the mound and then you go over to the entertainment side.”
No shortage of stars
The Bananas were tied for the most CPL All-Star Game selections earlier this month with eight players, and Gillum said more deserved, but it’s become a numbers game with slots available. .
Of the eight players, four have appeared on Savannah’s in-house reality show, “Dancing with the Bananas.” This version of the network show began with six bananas and professional dancers as partners, with one couple being rejected each week.
These players put in an extra two to three hours a week (sometimes more) in a dance studio and at the ballpark learning and practicing their choreographed routines. 20-minute episodes on YouTube can only capture snippets of the extra work and sacrifice.
Players attest to the benefits of being a Bananas player and learning to come out of their shells and thrive in perhaps awkward situations in front of crowds and cameras – sometimes uploaded to social media platforms.
“It’s not that hard when you’re around a group of guys like that, a great group of guys,” Donaldson said. “We gel really well and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Brewer, who is committed to playing for the Kansas Jayhawks, said the players’ schedule teaches them a lot about time management. The organization ensures that they participate in their baseball practices and dance rehearsals.
“It may not look like it, but it’s very professional here,” said Brewer, selected by the New York Yankees out of Junior College Paris (Texas) in the 19th round, 580th overall pick. total, of the 2022 MLB Draft on Tuesday. “There’s no one here to hold your hand. They’re asking you to do the entertainment, you have to do it, and then you have to learn how to manage your time to give yourself enough time to be able to perform at a high level.”
They play, year after year, as the roster changes. Gillum noted a study that supported the hypothesis that playing for the Bananas improves player performance. Curtis Sproul, an assistant professor of management at Georgia Southern University, researched the early years of the Bananas’ player stats compared to their earlier college numbers in certain individual batting and pitching categories.
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He did the same for the college and CPL performances of players on opposing teams. The Bananas were the only team with significant player improvement in the summer games.
Gillum credits the Bananas culture for recruiting players he called “OKG” for Our Kinda Guy, who can meet the demands of baseball and entertainment while wearing the uniform. They must have baseball talent, a strong work ethic, tenacity and be selfless and outgoing, he said.
“Every team is different, but the ‘flip the switch’ remains the same,” Gillum said. “You always say that in good cultures, good organizations, people change, but the culture of the organization, the foundation of it, doesn’t change. It just continues.”
Nathan Dominitz is the sports content editor for Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz