The Savannah Bananas are a hot ticket these days.
Thousands of fans have been turned away at the gates of Grayson Stadium hoping to score seats from the box office. But the only way to get in is to buy from the ticket scalpers lining the sidewalk near Victory Drive.
And yes, they’re out there. That’s something Savannah Bananas team owner Jesse Cole didn’t expect in the team’s second year.
There has been no sophomore slump for the Bananas, the collegiate wood bat league team that has taken Savannah by storm since it arrived in 2016.
There have only been exceeded expectations.
Cole said he never pushed the idea that he wanted to sell out every home game, but that’s exactly what’s happened 24 times to date.
And on Wednesday, the club officially broke its own Coastal Plain League single-season attendance record of 91,044 set last year when the Bananas won the league crown in their debut. Before the Bananas came on the scene, that record was 77,171, set in 2014 by the Peninsula Pilots of Hampton, Virginia.
The Bananas made up a pair of games at Grayson Stadium on Wednesday against the Lexington County Blowfish that were rained out earlier in the season.
Cole said the attendance of those games did not officially count until the games were played on Wednesday. The team entered the night with attendance of 87,600 over 21 games. Game 1 Wednesday was 4,029, and 4,116 attended Game 2 to smash the record.
The Bananas have three home games scheduled before the CPL playoffs begin next week, and two of them (today and Saturday) are sold out. Tickets are still available Sunday’s make-up game against Gastonia.
“I don’t think we could have ever expected to sell out every single game in a season,” Cole said. “That just doesn’t happen, but it shows you Savannah wants to have fun.”
The fun part of it was Cole’s focus for this season.
“I said we have a responsibility to put on a better experience for our fans, a better atmosphere, and we’re going to work our butts off to sell as many tickets as we can,” he said. “It’s more about atmosphere. I think it’s the best atmosphere in the country. It’s amazing the crowds I’ve seen here.”
But aside from all the gimmicks the Bananas have become known for, they have a baseball team that delivers home wins better than any team in the CPL.
Before a 3-1 loss in Game 2 on Wednesday, the Bananas had won 14 of their last 15 home games including 13-8 in Game 1.
“Because of the crowd, Savannah is the best place in America to play collegiate baseball in the summer,” Bananas head coach Sean West said. “I tell these guys every game to make sure they acknowledge the fans every game because it is special.”
Cole is looking forward to selling out one more game to make a season sweep of home games, and that could push this season’s attendance past 100,000.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done at this level,” Cole said. “Every single game has been completely sold out. We had to make it more fun, we brought some new promotions, some new excitement, and coach Sean West brought in a great team.”
Cole said he has one of those good problems to have, and he’s already thinking about ways to accommodate more fans.
“We’ve turned away over 20,000 people this year,” he said. “We know we have a responsibility to add more seats next year. We’re going to add more seats, more awesome group areas. We’re going to keep pushing the envelope.”
The challenge will be to do that at the quaint Grayson Stadium. Cole said he wants to preserve the ballpark’s historic feel.
“We love this ballpark,” he said. “We want to celebrate this ballpark’s 100th anniversary, so our goal is to start a long-term lease here.”
The stadium was built in 1926 (and later rebuilt), implying Cole fully intends on being in Savannah in 2026.
“I’d love to,” he said. “That’s the goal.”
The first game between the Bananas and the Blowfish picked up where they left off – in the third inning with Lexington holding a 6-5 lead. The game turned into a slugfest, with the Bananas scoring 13 runs on 19 hits, while the Blowfish had eight runs on 12 hits.
Lexington came out swinging, scoring an early run in the third, but the Bananas put it together offensively with a four-run fifth inning and never trailed again.
Bryce Fischer led the bottom of the fifth off with a single to right, John Cassala followed with a single to move Fischer to third, and LJ Talley hit a line drive that was caught in center field but allowed Fischer to tag and score, cutting the lead to 7-6.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Brandon Purcell gave the Bananas the lead with a screamer to left field that was inches from leaving the park, bouncing off the left-field wall for a double and driving in the go-ahead runs. Utah Jones drove in Purcell with a single up the middle to make it 9-7.
The bats never got going for the Bananas in the second game, which played to a 1-1 tie until the Blowfish surged ahead with runs in the fourth and in the sixth for a 3-1 win. Lexington (21-29) pitcher TJ Shook went seven strong innings, allowing one run and just five hits, walking two and fanning two. Kyle Richardson took the tough-luck loss for Savannah (26-24), going six innings, surrendering three runs off six hits to go with six strikeouts.