New York has the Yankees. Atlanta has the braves. Savannah has the … bananas? The city’s popular Coastal Plains League college team, the Savannah Bananas, are the latest in a long line of baseball teams to make their home at Historic Grayson Stadium.
Over the decades, Grayson Stadium has been the home ground for minor league members of the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators, and Atlanta Braves. Originally called Municipal Stadium when it opened in 1926, Grayson Stadium is the oldest continuously operating minor league stadium in America and still retains much of its old-fashioned charm (like a hand-rolled scoreboard).
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Many of the greatest ball players of all time have hit the field at Grayson Stadium. In 1927 Lou Gehrig played an exhibition game there. Then, in 1935, Babe Ruth attended the field to play the local Georgia Teachers College. In 1959, Mickey Mantle was playing at Grayson Stadium when the Yankees and Reds were playing an exhibition game. Other legends like Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Ted Williams have played at Grayson Stadium. And while it didn’t count for his stats, home run record holder Hank Aaron kicked one out of that park too.
In 1951, Jackie Robinson became the first black player to break the color barrier at Grayson Stadium when the Dodgers played against the Phillies in an exhibition game. Two years after that milestone, the Savannah Indians were finally integrated along with the rest of the Southern Atlantic League – or Sally League -.
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The most unusual celebrity to visit Grayson Stadium was comedian Sasha Baron Cohens Borat in an episode from the first season of the Da Ali G Show. Borat, on a mission to learn more about America’s pastime, attended a Savannah Sand Gnats game where he hilariously treated the unsuspecting crowd with his overly lengthy rendition of the Kazakh national anthem and then the (naked) Sand Gnat players in the changing shower attended the game. To Savannah’s appreciation, the team and fans were incredibly hospitable and kind to Borat.
Savannah may have lost their minor league team a few years ago when the Sand Gnats moved away, but the Savannah Bananas have taken on the baseball coat in a great way, winning the Coastal Plain League championship in their first season, and regularly selling out tickets feat seldom matched by Savannah’s previous minor league teams.
Thanks to excellent promotion, dancing players and a fun, family-oriented atmosphere, the Bananas have broken visitor records at every game. Team owner Jesse Cole wears a yellow tuxedo and top hat every game and gets the crowd going like a circus ringleader. The bananas, along with the enduring legacy of Grayson Stadium, ensure that baseball remains America’s pastime … at least in Savannah.
Christopher Berinato is the author of Secret Savannah: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure