Marlowe's bananas path to the Majors

February 20th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Peoria Sports Complex was already abuzz before Mariners pitchers and catchers reported this week for Spring Training, thanks to a raucous three-day visit from the Savannah Bananas, who brought with them some sentimentality for outfielder .

A full year before he was drafted, and while admittedly pondering a life pivot away from baseball, Marlowe played for the Bananas in the summer of 2018. The objective? Have a little fun, stay in shape, earn some extra cash and maybe get on an MLB team’s radar.

“I was just looking for somewhere to play summer ball and it was three hours from home for me,” said Marlowe, who grew up in Tifton, Ga., and spent much of this past offseason there. “So it was a good setup, and it was just a good opportunity. I got in front of some scouts.”

Among those scouts was John Wiedenbauer, who is with the Rangers now but worked for the Mariners back then. Seattle wound up selecting Marlowe in the 20th round of the following year’s MLB Draft.

“It worked out,” Marlowe said, laughing.

A quick refresher for those unaware of the Bananas, a barnstorming bunch based out of Georgia: They’re a team that operates on the unorthodox, with in-game choreographed dances, elaborate scoring celebrations and more.

Likened as baseball’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters, the Bananas admittedly provide a show more than a competition, and their niche has developed a cult-like following, drawing coverage from The New York Times, ABC News and People Magazine among other globally-recognized media. Locally, they’ve sold out every home game after their inaugural season in 2016, and now, they tour the country.

Back when Marlowe was with them, the Bananas hadn’t quite gone full bananas. They were still in the infant phases of installing dance routines and other stunts.

“I didn't do much dancing; I did a little bit," Marlowe said through a sheepish grin. “But I mean, it's kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters. They're still playing baseball, but it's definitely a fun, entertaining environment. It's crazy and hectic, which that's probably the only different part about it.”

Marlowe isn’t the first Banana to reach the big leagues, but he’s among a finite group. The Bananas have actually been more popular drawing former Major Leaguers, largely for show. Last September, for example, 35 members of the MLB Players Association Alumni played the Bananas in an exhibition, including former Mariners second baseman Dee Strange-Gordon.

It’s represented a quirky career path for Marlowe, who while playing for the Bananas was wrapping up his time at the University of West Georgia and considering a career with his biology degree rather than baseball. It was only after the Mariners drafted him that he legitimately considered pro baseball -- albeit without the dance moves.

Marlowe didn’t attend a game while the Bananas were in Arizona -- face value tickets were going for $75, and he instead planned to take his girlfriend to scenic Sedona before Seattle’s first full-squad workout on Tuesday. But Marlowe did catch up with some personnel who are still with the team, including Bananas designated hitter Dan Oberst, whom he played with at West Georgia, and head coach Tyler Gillum.

Marlowe, who turns 27 in June, is in his third big league camp and on the outside looking in for an Opening Day roster spot, given the Mariners' restock of outfield depth this offseason. But he’s swung one of the club’s most consistent bats in the Minors the past few years and made the most of his 34 games in the Majors after debuting last July -- including a ninth-inning, game-winning grand slam in Anaheim on Aug. 3.

If he doesn’t break camp with Seattle, he’d be among the first outfield reinforcements from Triple-A Tacoma. There’s still a long way to go until then, and for the time being this week, he welcomed some nostalgia to the reminder of where it all started.