Former Major Leaguers return to action to face Savannah Bananas

September 5th, 2023

For the third time this year, the MLB Players Alumni Association took on the Savannah Bananas in a friendly matchup between the former Major Leaguers and the internet sensations. After meeting up once at Grayson Stadium on March 11 and then in Tampa at George M. Steinbrenner Field on April 29, the teams got together again on Sept. 2 in Savannah.

Not only was it a fun environment for everyone involved, it also gave the MLBPAA an opportunity to play the game they love again. “It brings back a lot of memories especially when you step in the box and you’re facing pitching, when you’re fielding and you hear the fans…all those memories, they’re awesome,” said Luis Montanez, who played for the Orioles and Cubs throughout his career.

Montanez was one of three players who played the whole series, joining former All-Star closer Heath Bell and pitcher Collin Balester. For some it was even the first time their families and children were able to see them on the field. “It’s fun to get out there again, especially this great crowd. There’s going to be a ton of people here and it’s fun to go out there and get the adrenaline going again. You get back to old times sake,” said Balester.

It was a jam-packed day for everyone, which started with a dance practice at 1 p.m., several hours before the game even started. The stadium was full hours before first pitch with fans watching warmups, grabbing autographs and pictures, and observing the countless festivities.

Dance routines, trick plays and special guest appearances were just some of the exciting events during the game, followed by a firework show after. “It was fun, there was a lot going on from the time the gates opened to the postgame festivities. I didn’t know what to expect but it was a blast. We had a lot of fun, we kind of leaned into it and it’s been a cool experience,” said Daniel Descalso, who played in two games this series and was a member of the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals.

Banana ball is a different style of baseball than the MLBPAA was used to, with a time limit and different scoring format used. Games are fast paced, going no longer than two hours, which is very important for the Bananas. They want action throughout and don’t want any slow time. With music bumping throughout, dancing and skills that are circus-like, the Bananas know how to entertain.

The first meeting between the teams was the quickest game ever for the Bananas, lasting just more than an hour and a half. Saturday’s game took the teams the full two hours, with the Bananas beating the MLBPAA, 3-0.

The MLBPAA got off to a quick start, scoring two runs in the first inning, but the Bananas tied it in the bottom half. Savannah added three points over the final eight innings for the win. They use a point system, where every inning is a point, and the team with the most runs scored is awarded one point. Also, the game saw the tallest player ever with Dakota "Stilts" Albritton batting against former Major Leaguer Brett Tomko and then also pitching against MLBPAA. 

Unlike in their playing days, results for the MLBPAA were not too important and ultimately just a footnote in the evening. It was more about going out, having fun, entertaining fans and playing the game they love again. “I’m so excited, not only being here and seeing it in person but the number of friends and family who came…and it just shows the excitement about this team and the organization and what they’ve been able to do. They’ve invited us and let us be here for it, it’s great,” said Curtis Granderson, who was a Silver Slugger and played for seven teams, including both New York clubs and the Tigers.

Granderson, who was in a powder blue suit to match Bananas owner Jesse Cole’s yellow suit, coached the team, along with former big league starter Jamey Wright. “The thing you miss the most about being a player is the comradery, being in the dugout and clubhouse, kind of watching these guys have fun,” said Wright, who pitched for 10 teams across 19 seasons.

The MLBPAA roster was made up former All-Stars and veterans, most notably Bell, two-time All-Star Dee Strange-Gordon and Eric Sogard. Gordon and Sogard were the most recent big leaguers, with Gordon and Sogard last playing in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

Getting back out there and playing again was certainly important for the MLBPAA, but this game also gave others an opportunity to share the field with their favorite players and to play with them for the first time. “To have such great guys, guys I’ve looked up to my whole life and it’s a group of guys I’ve become close with and to go out and have fun,” said Michael Deeb of the Bananas/Party Animals. The Party Animals are a second team who play with and against the Bananas. They even gave some of their players to the MLBPAA during the games to assist with any questions that came up.

Joining in the fun for the first time was Backstreet Boys member Brian Littrell, who sang, danced and even had an at-bat against his good friend Jeremy Guthrie. The two met at Littrell’s concert in 2010 and have been friends ever since. Guthrie and Littrell talked to Cole about getting him in a game, and it worked out for this one. “I’m super excited, it’s like living a dream. I’ve been at third base at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium singing the national anthem, but to be out here and go play is completely different. It’s every young man’s dream,” said Littrell. “This isn’t just about baseball, it’s about the environment and everything going on. I’m excited to be entrenched in the whole show. The banana show!”

With the Banana’s rising popularity, the MLBPAA knew they had to get in on the action. MLBPAA’s CEO Dan Foster contacted Cole and the two sides got together to create a friendly series. The MLBPAA was formed in 1982 to promote the game of baseball, raise money for charity, inspire and educate youth through positive sport images and protect the dignity of the game through former players. A nonprofit organization, the MLBPAA establishes a place where a player's drive for excellence and achievement on the field can continue long after they take their last steps off the professional diamond.

Setting up something like this was great for everyone involved, especially for Kate Tyo, who is the Vice President of Membership and Development for the MLBPAA. “Watching the guys get totally into it. Watching them light up and have the best time ever and really enjoy themselves,” said Tyo.