or: Why I will never again attend a game hosted by the Savannah Bananas
I love baseball. I’ve been going to games since I was 4. I have been to dozens of stadiums in the US and Canada, major and minor leagues. I spent two summers as the official photographer for a summer wooden bat league in the NECBL. I’ve played a pick-up game with strangers on the Field of Dreams in Iowa. I’ve been the Baseball Hall of Fame and I met the real Rockford Peaches.
I’ve seen just about every weird mascot race and dizzy bat contest and free-tire-rotation-if-the-third-baseman-gets-a-homerun giveaway there is. But I have never seen such disrespect to the America’s pastime as I have at a Savannah Bananas game — a term I use loosely.
Grayson Stadium, a WPA-era park that’s holding its own, was home to a Single-A team, the Savannah Sand Gnats. The owners wanted a new stadium, the city said no, so they picked up their marbles and left for Columbia in 2016. (Columbia is regretting that decision but that’s another story). It looked like Grayson was going to be dark for the summer. Then a team owner in the Carolina Plain League (CPL) said they wanted to bring a collegiate wooden bat league to town. Having worked for one for two years, I thought it would be great for the city. The season is shorter (basically June-July, since the players are in college) but it’s good baseball. And it’s better than nothing.
I was wrong.
After a slew of gimmicks, including a naming contest that came up with the moniker (think “Boaty McBoatface), the Bananas were set to move in. Still, we went to opening night. It was like watching a clown car get in to a slow motion accident. It was loud, flashy, and cringeworthy. The baseball was an afterthought. I had a miserable time and had no intention of attending again.
The next season some friends invited us to go. I hesitated but thought maybe the kinks had been worked out. After all, I had worked in event management. It’s a tough gig. Maybe they have done some adjusting. Maybe it’s better. It wasn’t. The demented Willy Wonka act had only gotten worse. The bleacher seating was massively oversold and dozens of people were left standing or wandering aimlessly. There were no ushers or staff to help. It was miserable and I vowed never to return.
That was two years ago.
Last week, some friends again said they had tickets and asked if we would like to go. The tickets were a charity fundraiser and included free burgers, popcorn, soda and water. We said yes. I had anxiety the whole day about it. We made sure to arrive at 6:15 (for a 7 p.m. game) so that we would have seats this time. We found some, and the first thing I said after we sat down is, “Shoot, I should have brought my earplugs.”
The incessant noise / music / chants was so ear-bleedingly loud it was distorting the sound coming from the speakers. My husband, a sound engineer, pulled out the dB meter and found it hovering around 88-90dB, spiking to over 95. Not sure what that equates to? Here’s a chart, but short version is anything over 85dB is considered harmful. It’s also impossible to carry on a conversation. We were barely able to talk to the friends we were with. We endured the “pre-game” for about 45 minutes and hoped that once the game began, things would settle down.
Baseball is supposed to be a slow burn. The excitement comes from the suspense built up over each pitch, each play, each out. Going to game is supposed to be a treat, a time to get away from the screens and the air-conditioned habitats we create for ourselves. It’s supposed to be a little different, a little quieter, a little thoughtful.
Instead, EVERY SECOND IS FILLED WITH SOMETHING LOUD. EVERYTHING WAS IN ALL CAPS AND 48 PT COMIC SANS FONT. There was a noisemaker or sound effect or song blasted through the speakers at 90dB between EVERY PITCH. There was some sort of inducement to cheer or chant constantly. At no point were these announcements related to the game. We were encouraged to yell “charge” with one ball, one strike and nobody on base. Who, exactly, is charging…?
I usually enjoy the silly on-field games between innings in the minor leagues. They are charming, simple contests that show off the creativity (and small budget) of the team management. Not so, with the Bananas. As if one high-on-Pixie-Stix hype man isn’t enough, there is now a green banana child (maybe 7 years old?) who has his own mic and forced game show-host delivery.
Maybe it’s a great place to work. Maybe the employees love the forced glee. They work hard and they hustle, I give them that. But I couldn’t help but look around at their grinning faces and think it looked like the set for the next Jordan Peele horror movie. The first base coach clearly enjoys dancing for the crowd (and he’s good at it), but do the players who have to join him?
Then there’s the crowd. People will argue that I’m just an old lady and that must be great because it’s sold out all the time. But when you look around at the crowd, one sees the same zombie-like behavior — noses in phones, people numb to their surroundings. I argue that people don’t like it but it’s what there is and they are simply numb to the bombardment.
This year, there is a giant banner over the entrance: Welcome to the Show! This is perhaps the biggest clue of all that there is no baseball to be found here. It is a maniacal circus with a game in its sideshow freak tent.