Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review: Banana Ball (2023)

By Jesse Cole and Don Yaeger

There's something going on in the world of baseball, and it's really difficult to describe from a distance. 

After some modest origins, a new form of the sport has taken the business by form. The rules were blown up, with the emphasis on fun. Pitchers on stilts? Foul balls that are caught by fans in the stands becoming outs? Time limits? Bats literally on fire? Let's try them all and see how they work. 

Now within a couple of years, the Savannah Bananas - and who doesn't love that name - has become something of a talk of the sports business world. It went on a national tour this summer, and packed in the crowds wherever it went. 

A good promoter knows how to spread the word, and Jesse Cole certainly is that. He has a book out on how it all happened from his standpoint. "Banana Ball" is that story. 

Cole was something of a prospect while growing up, good enough to reach the college ranks. Any chance that he had of turning professional essentially ended with an injury, so he had to find another way to scratch his baseball itch. Jesse found work in the world of organized ball, doing a little bit of everything. Eventually, he moved on to run a college-age summer league team in 2016. While Cole probably didn't realize it at the time, it was the perfect laboratory for his creative brain. After all, no one is paying close attention. 

Slowly but surely, the concept grew a bit bigger, week by week. Concepts were tried and discarded like jokes in a late night television monologue. But do that enough, and you'll find out what works. And the fans responded nicely. 

Cole and Company decided to take the act out on the road in 2022, turning the Bananas briefly into a barnstorming team. It seemed to work, and the concept was expanded in 2023. Yes, those bright yellow uniforms turned up even in Cooperstown this past summer, and trips to major league parks seems rather likely. It's easy to think of this as something along the lines of baseball's answers to the Harlem Globetrotters. The biggest difference is that both teams really are trying to win while putting on a show on the side. 

And so Banana Ball seems destined to find a niche in the sports entertainment business in a good-sized way. But how is "Banana Ball," the book?  It's easy to be less enthusiastic about that. 

This is written as a straight autobiography. While the story has some charm - struggling young couple beats the odds - there is some repetition and some self-congratulating along the way. That makes it relatively easy to speed through the book. It's easy to wonder if an "outside in" approach would have been the better way to write this, as the other participants could have added some perspective on the experience. 

There are video programs on the Bananas - ESPN did one - and the team itself has embraced social media to complete effectiveness. That's probably the best way to learn about the team. As for the book, it's quick and easy and spreads the word well enough. It's another tool in the promotional toolbox, and after finishing it you'll probably be curious enough to go to a game when the opportunity becomes available. 

Three stars

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