On the surface, when you look at the Savannah Bananas you see a baseball team filled with some amazing and talented college players. Players that are willing to do just about anything that is asked of them including learning dances, cheers, and chants or wearing kilts while they play.
If you look closer and move back the curtain, you will find a couple that took a chance on a team when a lot of others wouldn’t. That couple would be Jesse and Emily Cole.
I had the opportunity to speak with Emily about her work with the Bananas, running a team with her husband, and her journey to get there while being a mother.
Without further ado, Emily Cole!
Amanda: How would you describe yourself and what you do?
Emily: So my husband and I own the team but we are very hands-on owners so we are very involved in the day-to-day stuff and I really take pride in working with our people. I always say our team but people think that means the baseball players and for us, it is but it’s also the staff and the interns and the gameday staff which is a couple 100 people at the bananas so that’s what fills me up and gives me the most joy is just working with those people and pouring into them and helping them create a better atmosphere for our fans.
Amanda: Where did you start with sports?
Emily: I started actually with the Binghamton Mets in upstate New York. They were the Double-A affiliate of the Mets at the time. Then I spent a couple years with Ripken Baseball and worked up and down the coast with the different minor league teams that Cal and Bill Ripken owned. So yeah just worked with a couple of different minor league teams in a number of different positions and that all led me to here.
Amanda: That kind of leads into my next question: how did you get from there to where you are now?
Emily: I started working with my husband at a team called the Gastonia Grizzlies just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. We had that team for a couple of years when we decided to expand and go into Savannah, Georgia and so we bought that expansion franchise in 2015. That just blew up and got so big over the next couple of years. It was a total failure in the beginning. Really really tough beginning. People were making fun of us you know, we’re a team named after fruit. You know that that kind of seems like a joke in the sports world, but fortunately over the last couple of years that has just exploded in popularity. So that has kept us extremely busy and really now all of our focus isn’t on that team.
Amanda: What inspired you to work in sports and ultimately on a team with your husband?
Emily: I just grew up in a sports family. Sports have just always been really important to me and I’ve got three younger brothers. We were constantly at a ball field of some sort and going through college, you know, I didn’t really have that dream job idea. I really just started saying I want to do something that I love. Where am I most comfortable? Where do I feel like I’m myself? That’s outside, it’s with making people happy, it’s being around a lot of people and being on a team working towards something collectively. So all of those things together just kind of led me in the direction and I started working part time for the Binghamton Mets and then kind of grew my position from there and just realized that’s exactly where I wanted to be.
Amanda: Were you a fan of any sports growing up?
Emily: Yeah, we were very busy with our own sports teams growing up, but we definitely we watched whenever we could, whatever game was on. NFL, NBA, NASCAR, you know, we watched it all
Amanda: Is Maverick (her son) a fan yet?
Emily: Yeah, he is a huge fan. He runs around yelling ‘Bananas’ all the time. He knows all of the dances and all the chants that we do and he feels very at home at the ballpark.
Amanda: What does an average day look like for you during the season?
Emily: You know, that’s one of the best things about this industry. I think no day is the same and I love that. My personality just wouldn’t fit with sitting at a desk doing the same exact thing every day. So again I try to always come back to working with our people. I’m constantly checking in with the team and thinking about what the atmosphere is going to be like for our fans, how our customer service is going to be, how we’re going to ‘wow’ people at the game that night. It could be a ton of different things but that’s always in my mind the best, you know, what I’m working towards is how do I create the best experience for our staff and for our fans.
Amanda: COVID has affected the sports world a lot. The seasons have changed and forgotten or canceled or moved to bubbles and all the hub cities. How has it affecting you guys?
Emily: We really tried to look at this as an opportunity for us to think differently and think outside the box. So immediately once we sent people home last March, we just became content machines. From our homes we started doing cooking shows with our staff, and we made music videos with our fans and our players where our staff all took clips of them doing the same song and then we’d mash them together and put out music videos. We all just decided that we were going to use this as an opportunity to connect with fans, the Banana fans, and then also people who might not yet be our fans and just put some positivity out in the world. Everybody was at home by themselves lonely and unsure of what was to come, so we decided, hey we can be that beacon of light, you know, this is our role right now. Normally we’re entertaining people in our stadium but if that’s not an opportunity right now, how can we reach them, how can we be positive in the community and so we just became content machines and started putting fun things out there and we really did that for the whole past year.
Amanda: What made you guys decide to take part in the season? Since maybe the other teams and the players might not have due to covid.
Emily: We just feel like we have a responsibility to be that positive part of a community. When a sports team shuts down in an area, it’s devastating for a lot of reasons and the quality of life you know statistically just goes downhill. We knew that if we completely closed our doors that would just be another negative to hit Savannah. The community means so much to us that we did everything we could. We worked with the city of Savannah and the health department to create a really safe but still fun atmosphere. Of course, being an outdoor venue was extremely helpful. I mean if we played at an indoor arena arena we probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything. But you know there weren’t as many rainouts as we’ve had in the past.
Now this year it was actually a blessing to be an outdoor facility and so we were able to set up Plexiglas, and do temperature checks, and do social distancing with seats. Then at the end of the day you were just sitting outside with your family, you know, watching a show that was a couple 100 yards away. So we were able to move forward in a safe way and still create some fun, for although many less people in person, we were still be still able to put on a show. Then we did a lot of streaming of our games/events and promotions so that people can sit at home if they weren’t able to come out and still have some fun.
Amanda: What inspired you to write your children’s book?
Emily: The Bananas are really good at reaching people on social media, and you know, all the adults who come into the ballpark. But once I became a parent, I realized that there was a whole demographic that we weren’t touching. And so I kind of combined my love for our now toddler children, and wanting to reach that demographic, and decided that we should put a meaningful book about who the Bananas are into children’s words. So it was just a way for us to reach our little Banana fans, and still have fun with it. Of course, put a good message in it as well, you know, the Bananas are all about chaos and fun. But really, at the end of the day, we also truly believe in being yourself, standing out, being different, being crazy, and being okay with that, and not letting other people judge you. And I think that especially now, that’s a really important message for kids. And so we just decided to wrap that all up together.
Amanda: How would you describe or explain the Bananas to someone who wasn’t familiar with them?
Emily: We always say that it is a circus, and a baseball game breaks out because first and foremost, it is a show. Everything is a show. We have performers, we have acrobats, we have musicians, we have gymnasts, we have cheer teams, you know, that is the highlight of our night. And then we also have really good baseball. So we focus on the performances and the show, and we try to make sure that there’s something for everybody. So you can be a diehard fan of our baseball, you know traditionalist, and still come out and still get that baseball fix. But you can also be a grandma or a five year old and come out and still be entertained. So it’s definitely a circus. It’s definitely a show. That’s what we focus on first. But we are also a sports team.
Amanda: This next question comes from twitter. Are you (and Jesse) surprised by how much social media has made people aware of the team?
Emily: Yeah, social media is a whole new beast to us. We’re just old enough that, you know, we aren’t really diehard or addicted to our social media. So it does surprise us a little bit. But everybody on our staff is just a few years younger than us. And, you know, they show us every day how we’re able to reach people all over the world through these platforms. And so we’re big fans of it, you know, especially with COVID. And everyone being home over the past year, that was a way for us to communicate with all of our fans when we’re used to doing it in person. And so we’re big fans of social media, obviously, Bananas, social media accounts, they’re Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. They’re fun channels to watch, I think. And so again, we like to use those platforms as a way to just have fun and reach people and bring a little levity to the world.
Amanda: One of my friends is from Chile. And she loves to team and bought a package you have. It blew my mind to see that.
Emily: We were surprised we get requests every day from different countries for international shipping for our merchandise. And it’s still something we just have to pinch ourselves that it’s truly becoming an international brand. And that’s just such a surreal feeling.
Amanda: How is becoming a mother to Maverick and now K (foster daughter) changed you and your view on the game at all?
Emily: It has absolutely and that’s the same reason that we wrote the children’s book. And it’s the same reason that we’re constantly thinking about how else we can support our families at our game. I mean, two years ago, we introduced a mother’s room, a nursing room, at the ballpark because I realized when I was there and nursing our baby, that it was really inconvenient. There wasn’t a clean place to set down things, and there wasn’t a place to put my pump and things like that. And, so I think whenever you get into a role you haven’t been in before, you know, you see things from a different point of view. And so absolutely by us becoming parents, and now more people on our staff are becoming parents, I think we just have a different lens of who our fans are and how we need to serve them and how we need to adapt. You know, we’re not all 22-year-olds who are going to the ballpark to have a beer with some friends. You know, it’s a totally different demographic. Now that we’re adults with children who are coming to the game who have bedtimes who want to run out and burn off energy, you know, those are all different things that we need to think about. And so, absolutely having children has helped us, I think, develop how we serve our fans on a nightly basis at Grayson stadium.
Amanda: Is there anything you want children to take away from their time around the Bananas?
Emily: Yeah, again, back to the message with our children’s book, it’s just to be confident in who you are. I mean, my husband wears a yellow tuxedo seven days a week. He is looked at as crazy by a lot of people, but that’s who he is. He’s full of energy. He’s zany, he is full of life, and there’s no need to apologize for that. And so we want our children to have the same confidence and the same mentality that whatever they’re interested in, they don’t have to like sports, if they want to go into theater or music, that’s great. That’s who their personalities are, then we’re going to support that. And I hope that a lot of people can get that message either through our children’s book or just from coming to our games and seeing that we’re just a bunch of characters having fun. And that that is what life is all about.
Amanda: What is the best advice you can give those especially young women looking to branch into sports?
Emily: The confidence thing is really big. And I think as a society, we’re doing a better job now of breaking down those barriers. Even when I started, you know, 10-12 years ago, there were mostly men at the teams that I worked for. And I think we’re slowly just chipping away at that and realizing that women can be involved too. And our minds work the same as guys who are in sports. And so I think just having the confidence to understand that that’s what you want to do, and go into it and realize that it’s not a men’s world anymore. It’s really not honestly, our full-time staff is half women and half men, it’s split. And so if you just find the right place to be, by having the confidence to get yourself in the door there, you will be successful. It doesn’t matter what gender.
Amanda: It’s one of those things when I was starting in college, I didn’t realize that I couldn’t get a job in sports. So I wanted something completely different. It didn’t work out. Now kinda last year, I was like, Oh, I can take my writing and put it was my love of sports.
Emily: And that’s amazing. I hope more and more women have that confidence and decide to follow that passion.
Amanda: What is next for you professionally?
Emily: So, we just launched our premier team, which is going to sound funny, but we’re looking at becoming like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. So the Harlem Globetrotters, you know barnstormed around the country, they’re a very funny basketball show to watch. Now, their games were rigged. And that, you know, they always won, they always beat the Washington Generals who are their opponent. But we have our traditional college summer baseball team, which is during the summer. And we’ve just launched a Bananas premier team, which is going to be in the fall and in the spring. And it’s going to be a team of professional players that travel the country and go to different cities. And they’re going to play our other team, which is the Party Animals. And it’s not going to be rigged. It’s going to be actual game. This last weekend, we were in Mobile, Alabama, and the Party Animals won the first night and the Bananas won the second night. And so it’s going to be true competitive baseball, but also, again, always it’s going to be our show. And we’re just going to take that from city to city across the country. We actually have a lot of cities right now reaching out to us. We’re trying to decide who the next ones are going to be. And so that’s what’s next. That’s what’s going to be our next few years is, just building up that travel team and traveling the country, bringing the show on the road really.
Amanda: That’s great. When does your season start this year?
Emily: Our traditional season is from May until August, and that will stay the same. But then our premier season will be in the fall months and the spring months.
Amanda: What are the five things that you’re currently loving? It could be anything,
Emily: Five things that I’m currently loving.
I run most mornings with some girlfriends. And that just keeps me sane. Because once I get back in the house at like 7 am is, you know, guns blazing crazy chaos with toddlers and work all day long. So I’m loving my mornings with that.
My husband and I go on a date, pretty much every week, we try to really stick to that. And of course, we travel a lot. So sometimes it slips to every two, but I really enjoy time connecting with him. We’re both running in a million directions. So that’s really special.
Audiobooks have become a new passion of mine. I used to love to read actual books, but now I fall asleep at night if I’m reading them. And so audiobooks help me get through actual books.
We’re renovating a house. So that’s a lot of fun. I’ve learned how to do a lot of design work.
I guess for number five, I would say I’m really just loving where the Bananas are right now. It’s been really exciting to help launch this travel premier team. And I’m just so proud of our team and so excited to see the cities that we’re going to go to in the next couple of years.