Book Review: Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole writes a book about his baseball team’s origins

“Banana Ball: The Unbelievably True Story of the Savannah Bananas” by Jesse Cole with Don Yaeger (Dutton)

Jesse Cole’s father shared the following wisdom with his baseball-obsessed 5-year-old son: “Swing hard in case you hit it.”

To say the younger Cole has taken that advice to heart is an understatement. He is, after all, the yellow tuxedo-wearing owner of the Savannah Bananas, the Georgia-based ballclub that became a national phenomenon with its unique and cheeky style of baseball.

Cole explores the team’s origins in his new book, “Banana Ball: The Unbelievably True Story of the Savannah Bananas,” which he wrote with journalist and author Don Yaeger.

A highly regarded prep pitcher in Massachusetts, Cole landed a spot playing at Wofford College. But he suffered a torn labrum while at the South Carolina school, effectively ending his career on the diamond and opening the door to a career just off of it.

After stints as a coach and as a minor league executive, Cole and his wife, Emily, landed in a certain Georgia coastal city. Their new team, the Bananas, joined a summer league for college players in 2016, playing in historic Grayson Stadium after the departure of Savannah’s longtime minor league team. With antics that drew attention from national media — players wearing kilts and using stilts, dancing grandmas (the Banana Nanas), etc. — the Bananas had a long waitlist for tickets.

Cole built on that success by launching a pro team that plays “Banana Ball.” It features a two-hour time limit, no walks, no bunting, batters can steal first base and outs being counted when a fan catches a ball in the stands.

“Banana Ball” provides an engaging look at the team’s founding and its “fans first, entertain always” philosophy, but it comes across as too much of a 200-odd-page advertisement. Cole even includes fawning quotes from Bananas players and others close to him.

Where the book really scores is when it focuses on Cole’s personal backstory, including his relationships with his dad and Emily and the early days of trying to build the Banana empire.

“Banana Ball” might not be quite ripe, but Cole certainly swung hard in writing it.

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