KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Baseball is getting a little more fun this weekend when the Savannah Bananas come to Kansas City to take on the KC Monarchs.
The game is a pre-season, exhibition game, that didn’t even abide by the traditional rules of baseball, and still sold out the 6,500 seat stadium, twice, within minutes.
“We had seen videos of their antics on youtube and so on and from there I called [Bananas Owner Jesse Cole] and said, ‘We’d love to have you come out and your team play with us,” said Monarchs’ CEO Mark McKee.
While McKee walks through Legends Field in the team quarter zip you’d expect of someone running a baseball team, Cole runs along the top of the dugouts, floats through the stands, and leads on-field entertainment in between innings in a yellow tuxedo that makes him visible from across a packed stadium.
The team’s rules, Banana Ball, helps move the game along by eliminating walks, mound visits, and stepping out of the box. Foul balls caught by fans are outs, and games have a two-hour time limit. During batting practice, players warm up but also practice choreographed routines and dances they’ll execute over the course of the night.
The Bananas TikTok account, where they recently started posting the on and off field antics that McKee and his team found, gained a million followers in the team’s first year of entertainment-based events. In the last few weeks, during their first multi-city tour, the account has picked up more than a million more followers.
“The young audience coming out and millions of followers on social media, we pinch ourselves,” Cole said. “We never thought it would be something like this.”
The team is made up of players with varrying skillsets for being both on a baseball team and on stage. Even among the more reluctant ballplayers is a minimum willingness to be silly for the fans.
“Today’s a circus,” McKee said. “It’s a crazy circus. People are going to see things they’ve never seen before.”
Which is helpful when overall baseball viewership and attendence at the highest level of the sport is suffering.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Baseball Almanac says 30-40 million people could be expected to watch the World Series. Those numbers have slowly fallen to less than 14 million during the 2019 Series.
Those Major League teams are noticing what Cole is doing.
He says the Bananas have already had conversations with big league clubs about events all over the country next year.
“I’ve had a dream of selling out Fenway Park and over the last few weeks and months, we’ve heard from major league teams and we’ve had the opportunity to really expand to some of the biggest stadiums in the world and it’s really sped up the process,” Cole said.