Going Bananas

Scituate’s Jesse Cole hits a homer by dreaming up a fun new version of baseball

By Dave Kindy

Photography courtesy of The Savannah Bananas

At first glance, it looked like a traditional baseball game at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton last summer – except the pitcher was on stilts and throwing strikes to the batter, the baserunner did gymnastic flips after scoring a run at home plate, and the players were dancing and leading cheers between innings.

Welcome to Banana Ball, the brainchild of a former Scituate High School baseball player who wanted to make the grand old game more exciting and entertaining. Jesse Cole and his wife Emily are owners of the Savannah Bananas, who play a variation of baseball where just about anything goes – so long as everyone is having fun, that is.

“This was a game I loved playing, but it was not as fun watching – it’s too long, it’s too slow, it’s too boring,” Cole says. “I thought, ‘How do we make something that is nonstop entertainment and fun?’ I looked at P.T. Barnum, Cirque du Soleil, WWE, ‘Saturday Night Live,’ even the band The Grateful Dead for inspiration.”

Their ideas created a tidal wave of fan interest. Though based in the Georgia city that gives it such a fun name, getting a ticket to see the Savannah Bananas at home is a challenge – there’s a waiting list of around 900,000 people. So the team went on the road, performing to sellout crowds at stadiums across the country. This year, the Bananas will play at several major and minor league ballparks, including Fenway Park June 8.

Sometimes called “circus” baseball, Banana Ball has become an international phenomenon. News media hypes the team whenever it visits their town. Officials from Major League Baseball teams have called the Coles about their success. Groups as far away as Japan are interested in seeing the Bananas play in their country. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., even included an exhibit about the team.

It’s a dream come true for Jesse Cole – though it wasn’t the one he hoped for at first. Growing up in Scituate, all he wanted to do was become a professional baseball player and pitch for the Boston Red Sox. However, that fantasy ended when he blew out his shoulder playing baseball for Division 1 Wofford College in South Carolina.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says, “though I was devastated at the time.”


This was a game I loved playing, but it was not as fun watching – it’s too long, it’s too slow, it’s too boring. I thought, ‘How do we make something that is nonstop entertainment and fun?’ I looked at P.T. Barnum, Cirque du Soleil, WWE, ‘Saturday Night Live,’ even the band The Grateful Dead for inspiration.

-Jesse Cole

Owner of the Savannah Bananas


The injury led Cole into coaching and then the front office. At 23, he was appointed general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies, a collegiate baseball summer team in North Carolina.

“The only way you get to be a GM that young is when the team is one of the worst in the country,” he says.

With attendance at rock bottom, Cole started thinking outside the box. He looked at ways to improve the fan experience by experimenting with new ideas. Soon, the Grizzlies were clawing their way back to profitability.

“I read every book on P.T. Barnum, Walt Disney and (baseball innovator) Bill Veeck, and started trying things – dancing players, dunk the GM between innings, grandma beauty pageants, midnight games,” he said. “We started drawing fans. We went from 200 fans a game to 1,000 to 2,000. We were fourth in the country in attendance.”

Cole, who even treated fans by proposing to Emily at one of the games, realized he was on to something. He and his wife decided to go all in by mortgaging everything they owned and buying a club in Savannah in 2016.

Renamed the Bananas and wearing garish yellow uniforms, the team at first played traditional baseball. Even with all the fun activities between innings, fans were still leaving before the end of the game.

That’s when Cole decided it was time for Banana Ball. He began tinkering with the format, adding a two-hour time limit, penalizing pitchers for throwing balls and walking batters, eliminating bunting, awarding a point to the team that won an inning, even allowing fans to challenge a play. And if a fan catches a foul ball in the stands, it’s an out.


Cole also made other changes. He upped the ticket price to $50 and made it all inclusive, so people could eat and drink as much as they liked. He encouraged players to have fun in the field by making trick plays and doing gymnastic flips while catching a baseball. He invited former professional players and other star athletes to play as guests. Cole himself took to wearing a yellow tuxedo and donning stilts to whip up fan excitement.

Before long, Banana Ball became boffo. Demand soared and games were sold out weeks in advance. People were clamoring to see the team, even driving from several states away to take in this brand-new version of the old baseball game.

“We’re not for traditional baseball fans,” Cole says. “We built this game for people who wanted to come out and have fun. Fortunately, we’ve found pretty good demand doing that.”

Comparisons to the Harlem Globetrotters, the traveling basketball team that entertains with trick plays, inevitably spring to mind. Cole says there are similarities, but not with today’s version. His team resembles the Globetrotters of the 1930s and ‘40s, when the games were not scripted and they actually lost on occasion.

“That’s one of the big misconceptions,” he says. “We actually had a losing record last season. Every game is competitive. It’s completely fun and crazy, but you never know who is going to win. That’s what makes it great.”


Ever the showman, Cole began branching out by writing books and creating a website that encourages people to “find their yellow tux.” In fact, one of his inspirational books is titled “Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out.”

What’s the future of Banana Ball? Cole says the sky’s the limit. He is considering adding more teams and perhaps even starting a league. The fan response is so positive and enthusiastic that he sees unlimited potential for his new take on baseball.

“I get kids wearing Bananas’ gear coming up and hugging me,” he says. “They play under Banana Ball rules and they have favorite players. It’s amazing how much this has taken off. The Bananas have over 12 million social media followers. It’s crazy.”

Crazy fun, that is. Go Bananas!


Follow all of the Savannah Bananas fun on Instagram
@thesavbananas or visit bananaball.com.