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Savannah Bananas celebrate
Malachi Mitchell – flipping in the air before a match in May – describes himself as the “fastest man in baseball”

When the World Series concludes this week, either the Houston Astros or the Philadelphia Phillies will justifiably be able to call themselves the best baseball team on the planet.

But if it’s unabashed fun you want, the choreographed, breakdancing, kilt-wearing, sometimes stilt-wearing exhibition team that bill themselves as the “world-famous baseball circus” take some beating.

“Every night we do 5-10 things we’ve never done before, so you never know what’s gonna happen,” says Bananas owner Jesse Cole.

Part baseball team, part viral sensation, the Bananas have accumulated more than 82 million likes on TikTok and play at a permanently sold-out stadium.

And with on-field haircuts, team twerks and High School Musical recreations among some of the stunts they pull off, the Bananas aren’t just about the baseball.

But what are they all about – and where did it all begin?

Well, the Bananas were founded in 2016 in Savannah, Georgia with the motto ‘fans first, entertain always’. They have since taken baseball by storm, and landed their own ESPN docu-series.

BBC Sport caught up with Cole after his side had won the Coastal Plain League Championship seriesexternal-link – a summer league for college players – for the second successive year.

‘We had a big vision’

Cole, 38, is a baseball fanatic. In 2014 – while working as general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies – he proposed to his now wife Emily in front of a sold-out crowd at a match in North Carolina.

The following day, Emily planned a trip to Savannah, where the couple visited Grayson Stadium – then home of the Savannah Sand Gnats.

“We saw this beautiful old ballpark, fell in love with that stadium, and heard that team was leaving,” says Cole, who is usually seen dressed in a yellow tuxedo.

“We said: ‘Why don’t we give it a shot?’ We had a big vision.”

Cole admits it “didn’t come to fruition right away”.

When the couple were given the keys to the stadium in October 2015, everything had been stripped out and they used a storage space as their first office. Their team of staff comprised Emily, a 24-year-old team president, and three 22-year-olds straight out of college.

The club launched itself in the local community a month later, but there was huge scepticism – by the end of the year only one season ticket had been sold.

The Coles went all in – selling their house and committing their savings to the project. Jesse admits it was a “huge struggle”.

“The community were really questioning who we were,” he says. “We had a lot of convincing to do.”

They decided to run a competition to name the team. More than 1,000 suggestions were sent in and retired nurse Lynn Moses was the only person to put forward ‘Bananas’.

Cole says: “When she said it, we said: ‘Wow. We can really have fun with this brand.'”

It was a big turning point. The naming announcementexternal-link in February 2016 went viral.

‘They saw all the fun that we put into it’

Having initially sold only a handful of tickets, their opening match against Lexington County in June 2016external-link became a complete sell-out, with just over 4,000 people present. Those lucky enough to secure tickets were not disappointed.

“They saw our Banana Nanas senior citizen dance team, dancing players, our breakdancing coach and banana pep band, and they saw all the fun that we put into it,” says Cole.

Six years on, the club have a waiting list of requests for single-game tickets of about 75,000.

Cole says the aim is to leave fans asking: ‘Did they really just do that on a baseball field?’

“In some sports, there are barriers between the players and the fans and we break down those barriers,” he says.

“A lot of these fans, especially kids, look up to players, and how often do you really get to know them and get to interact? That’s a really big goal of what we do.”

Cole and his team have also reinvented baseball – creating a spin-off version called ‘Banana Ball’ which has various rule changes, including a two-hour time limit. The intention, Cole says, is for it to be “more entertaining”.

“I wasn’t a fan of the way baseball was,” he says.

“Everything is about the speed and the excitement. So I think the goal was: ‘If you don’t like baseball, I think you’ll love our shows.'”

Those shows will now tour the country, with the club recently announcing they will depart the league set-up to play Banana Ball all year round.external-link

‘It’s a combination of talent and the ability to be an entertainer’

But with so much going on aside from the actual baseball, what does it take to be a Savannah Bananas player?

“You’ve got to be very talented at baseball and you’ve got to understand how to be an entertainer,” says Cole.

“If you’re just good at baseball, but don’t understand how to be ‘fans first’ and how to put on a show, you won’t fit in well.

“It’s a combination of talent and the ability to be an entertainer.”

It’s a mix that has helped the Bananas reach hundreds of millions of views across their social media platforms.

“I never would have imagined dancing pitchers would have done so well,” admits Cole.

And he says the same as he reflects on the team getting a series on ESPN, adding two words that neatly sum up the journey he and the team have been on.

“It’s wild.”

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