SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The bunch is back in town.
The Savannah Bananas kick off the 2019 season Thursday night, but the fun began Monday with the annual Fan Fest.
“The players get to see it. The fans get to see it,” says team owner Jesse Cole. “You know, it’s a meet and greet on the field. Home run derby. Promotions. It’s all about fun, and that’s what they’re having today.”
Around 2000 fans braved the heat to welcome the team back for the summer.
For the returning players, it was a chance to get back in the madness.
“Man I’ve been missing it. I went eight or nine months without it," admits Bananas catcher Bill LeRoy, back for his second year in Savannah. "I’m excited to see these fans out here and have a blast.”
LeRoy was one of the more popular players at Fan Fest. He was one of the easiest to spot as well. The North Georgia Nighthawk and Dublin, GA native shed his ballcap and cleats for a cowboy hat and boots.
“Where I’m from, that’s how we do it," he laughs. “I got an outfit planned for tomorrow too. Camouflage cutoff britches, a cutoff flannel, and a cowboy hat. So I’m ready to go tomorrow too.”
For the fans young and old, it was a chance to kick off another summer at the ballpark.
“It’s fun to watch them," says eight year old Hunter Rhoden of Ludowici. "We come almost every time they play”
Hunter says he wanted to get seven autographs on his baseball Monday night. He had that many before the first hour came to a close.
Monday’s Fan Fest was also a chance to initiate newcomers, players and fans, into the potassium party.
Ethan Baucom made a solid first impression for his newest supporters. The UNC-Pembroke product won the Fan Fest Home Run Derby, launching his winning bomb high off the trees behind the left field fence.
He says his first taste of the Bananas phenomenon went beyond anything he imagined.
“I’ve seen all the social media. I’ve been following it since I’ve been in college. I knew it was crazy,” Baucom says. “The pictures and videos and everything are awesome, but it doesn’t do it justice. You have to get out here and see it for yourself.”
It’s a similar story for Savannah newcomer Zach Heefner. The Houston transplant got his first Bananas experience Monday night, shortly after moving to the Hostess City.
“I tried to see what the closest sports team was to us and this was it,” he explains. “I was excited about it because I heard how fun it was.”
Heefner apparently didn’t want to look like a first timer though. The Banana bucket hat and Hawaiian shirt he donned Monday was the outfit of a Grayson Stadium veteran.
But even all the prior research Heefner did couldn’t properly prepare him for the Banana experience.
“It’s exceeding my expectations,” he laughs. “It’s great.”
Monday was just the Fan Fest. On Thursday, the season really begins as the Bananas host the in-state arch nemesis Macon Bacon at Grayson Stadium. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m.