On any given summer day when the Savannah Bananas are playing at home in Grayson Stadium, there is a very high probability that you’ll find every seat in the ballpark is filled. Simply put, since the Bananas officially became the local team back in 2016, they have captivated Savannahians, and it’s in large part due to a charismatic owner who isn’t afraid of trying new things on the marketing front.
To grasp why the Bananas are as popular as they are, it’s important to understand the storied history of baseball in the Hostess City.
Historic Grayson Stadium was constructed April of 1926 and was originally known as Municipal Stadium. Back then, it was the home to the Savannah Indians minor league team. Municipal Stadium became Grayson Stadium in 1941 after a hurricane destroyed the ball park a year before. It was named for William Grayson, a Savannah alderman and Spanish-American War veteran who spearheaded the effort to get the stadium rebuilt.
In 1955, Grayson Stadium’s home team became known as the Savannah Athletics. This lasted just a season as the franchise turned into the Redlegs in 1956 and kept the name for three years. In 1960 the team became the Pirates; in 1962 they were the White Sox for six years; the Senators in 1968; the Indians again in 1970, and then the Braves in 1971.
The Savannah Braves were affiliated with the Atlanta Braves in the major leagues, and that remained the case until the team was moved to Greenville, South Carolina in 1983. From there, Savannah’s team became the Cardinals in 1984 and were affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals in the major leagues until 1995. Then, they became what most Savannahians may refer to them as: the Sand Gnats.
The Savannah Sand Gnats became affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996, following the name change from Cardinals. The minor league team would end up staying in Savannah until 2015. During that stretch, they were affiliated with several major league teams: the aforementioned St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals, and lastly, the New York Mets in the final nine seasons of the minor league team’s existence.
The Sand Gnats’ final season came in 2015 when the owner opted to move the team to Columbia, where they became known as the Fireflies. While the team’s move seemed to signal an end to longstanding Savannah tradition, it was instead the start of a new era of baseball in the city.
Fans First Entertainment and owner Jesse Cole opened the suggestion box for Savannah’s new team to the public. The Bananas came out on top of a group that included four other finalists: Anchors, Party animals, Ports, and Seagulls. The name selection went viral, and there was no looking back for the new team.
The Bananas came out the gate swinging, winning the Coastal Plain League championship in its inaugural season. It helps interest when the team is good, but what goes on outside of the strike zone matters just as much.
What Fans First Entertainment does is clear in their name: they put the fans first. Bananas games are more than just spectacles; there are several opportunities throughout for fans to particulate in a variety of events. It’s about making the game more than just a game, and this comes from Jesse’s willingness to take chances, challenge expectations, and take any and every avenue to give fans a great experience.