LISTEN: Often described as “the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball,” the Savannah Bananas are back in season. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole discusses the 2024 season, wearing his signature yellow tuxedo and top hat.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole discusses the 2024 season, wearing his signature yellow tuxedo and top hat.

Credit: Benjamin Payne / GPB News

MLB Opening Day is still several weeks away, but no need to wait for the Savannah Bananas: The no-holds-barred baseball team got its 2024 season underway Thursday night in Tampa, Fla.

Losing 5-2 to their in-house archnemesis, the Party Animals, the Bananas nevertheless entertained a sold-out crowd of about 11,000 fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field, in what was the opening salvo of their 21-city barnstorming tour.

The name of the game is the same as in seasons past, dating back to the team's first tour in 2021: Banana Ball. That means unorthodox rules, trick plays and dancing umpires.

But there's a bunch of new things to look forward to from this year's crop of Bananas. Here are a few of them:


A golden rule for a golden opportunity

Marking a shiny new entry to the Banana Ball rulebook, the “Golden Batter” is similar to the designated hitter in traditional baseball, but — in true Savannah Bananas fashion — cranked up to 11: Once per game, each team can summon to the batter's box any player the manager so chooses, no questions asked, at any time.

“It's gonna change the game,” team owner Jesse Cole told GPB. “I mean, you think about in basketball, the best player gets the ball in their hands at the end of the game. Now your three-hole hitter — even if he just got out in the eighth inning — can come up in the ninth inning with a chance to win the game.”

But what if they're already on base? Doesn't matter, Cole explained: a pinch-runner can relieve them, making it possible for two consecutive at-bats by a single slugger.


The new 'MLB': Major League Bananas?

Step aside, Big Leaguers: the Bananas are in town. Six MLB ballparks will play host to Banana Ball games between the 'Nanners (as the team is affectionately nicknamed) and the Party Animals (their not-so-affectionately-regarded rivals).

In order of appearance on the schedule, they are: the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park, Boston Red Sox' Fenway Park, Washington Nationals' Nationals Park, Cleveland Guardians' Progressive Field, Philadelphia Phillies' Citizens Bank Park and Miami Marlins' LoanDepot Park.

With great seating capacity comes great expectations: A combined 200,000-plus fans are expected to take in these six games, assuming sold-out audiences.

That might seem like quite an assumption, but considering that the team has already sold out Minute Maid Park, and filled ticket lotteries to the brim elsewhere, there's reason to be bullish about the Bananas.

Atlanta fans may be disappointed to learn that the Braves' Truist Park isn't on the schedule, but who knows what next year may bring?

“We've heard from almost every Major League team at this point,” Cole said.

But metro Atlantans need not wait for 2025: the Bananas will take to Gwinnett County's Coolray Field — home of the Braves' Triple-A affiliate Gwinnett Stripers — for three games in March.


If you build it, they will come (if they can score tickets)

There's no place like home, and so for the Bananas, there's no place like Grayson Stadium: the historic venue, located within Spanish moss-draped Daffin Park, is adding an additional 1,000 seats this year, with all-new sections in left and right field.

“We've done a huge renovation at the stadium,” Cole said. “People are going to feel like it's a brand-new ballpark, going into its 99th anniversary. We're doing everything we can to get more fans a chance to come out and see a show.”

Fans will need every chance that they can get. The team's ticket waitlist is “climbing into the hundreds of thousands,” according to Cole. If buying tickets on the secondary market, expect to pay a pretty penny: re-sellers have been known to ask for upwards of $500 — far and away above face value.

“Our tickets are $35 at the minor-league parks, $40 to $60 at the Major League stadiums,” he said. “No ticket fees, no convenience fees, no service fees. We pay your taxes. Yet people think our tickets are so expensive. Those [secondary market tickets] aren't our tickets!”

Buyer beware, Cole cautioned: Scammers have infiltrated the secondary market, selling tickets that are as rotten as a mushy, overripe banana.

“The only tickets that are guaranteed are the ones through us,” he said. “When fans show up to our games with fake tickets, it is really sad and it's wrong and it bothers us more than anything. And so we're going to work on trying to eliminate that in the years to come.”

If you do manage to land a legit ticket, don't forget to bring your glove: By Banana Ball tradition, if a fan catches a foul ball, the batter is out.