Seeing is believing with the Savannah Bananas, which is why their TikTok account has 5.8 million followers and their seven-month-long, 33-city tour requires a lottery system due to high ticket demand.
Founded in 2016, the Bananas started as an exhibition team that competed in the Coastal Plan League, which is described as a "wood-bat collegiate summer baseball league." Though competitive, the Bananas also played with a flair that has likened them to be considered the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. There are eccentric rules, from a two-hour time limit to the banning of bunting—and if a foul ball is caught by a fan in the stands, it counts as an out. There are colorful routines, like players busting out choreographed routines between pitches or a pitcher on stilts.
Jared Donalson considers himself a more "serious" player who doesn't partake in the antics all the time. Although he likes to separate the business and thrills, he is thankful to be with the Bananas and to continue his baseball career after pitching at Georgia Southwestern State in Georgia.
"I've always been that way," Donalson says of being serious. "When I'm pitching, it's all business. But on nights I don't pitch, it's like, 'All right, I got to entertain.' "
Here are the top four life lessons Donalson, 24, has learned on his sports journey so far:
1. Think long-term
Donalson remembers being overlooked and underestimated when he was growing up. It especially hurt when he wasn't able to make a higher-level team and join his friends. "My dad would always come up to me and be like, 'That happened for a reason. Just get out there and just keep working.' That's something he instilled in me at a young age. 'Just work, and you never know what might happen.' Donalson played baseball, basketball and ran track at a small private school, and he just kept working to improve. Things started to come together later on, which he appreciated.
"My opportunity finally presented itself, and it was like, 'Okay, it's your time to shine.' So it was just staying adamant about it, staying consistent, and that kind of propelled itself, and it got me where I am today." One of his highlights with the Bananas was pitching eight scoreless innings in a championship game.
2. Stay humble
Donalson had a Division I opportunity fall through, and he arrived at Georgia Southwestern with an attitude about him. "I came in my freshman year, and I was like, 'Man, I don't need to be here.' " He was throwing pitches in the low 90s, but his accuracy was an issue — and he quickly realized that was a big problem that he'd have to work on. "I got humbled real quick because guys in college, they're going to hit 92 (mile per hour pitches) over the fence any day of the week. So that was a reality check for me." He worked out of the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore, but he stepped into the role of a starter as a senior.
3. Listen to the right people
Donalson says many "higher-ups" in different organizations told him where he wouldn't go throughout his career, only for him to prove them wrong. "You're not going to do this, or you're not going to do that," Donalson recalls. "And then when it comes to fruition, they're like coming out of the woodwork. That kind of fueled me to prove them wrong and just go out there and compete. I wanted to show that I do belong." But Donalson credits the support of many, especially his parents, for encouraging him throughout his young life. In fact, when he was older, Donalson realized how much his parents sacrificed to take him to games and tournaments. "I always had great support growing up," he says, "and it was something I took for granted," Donalson adds that he wouldn't be playing professional baseball right now if not for his parents.
4. Prioritize the fans
Donalson doesn't regret how focused he was on baseball, especially on days when he was pitching. But he says being a part of the Bananas has given him a great perspective on the role of fans in the sport. "On nights I don't pitch or I come out of the game, it's like, 'All right, I got to entertain,' " he says. "And our big thing here is to flip the switch. So it's like going from pitching, being that serious guy and going out there and competing, to flipping the switch and going to make a fan's night by interacting with 'them in the stands or doing this dance or whatever it might be." He said he enjoyed going back to his hometown and working with kids and then watching them play games. He also recalls a family that had come to see him after a game and brightened up their visit by hanging out with them. "That's what it's all about," he says. On that night, though, Donalson hadn't pitched particularly well. "I just didn't have my stuff," Donalson says. "But they still came and was like, 'Man, I'm in awe of you and just who you are.' So that meant a lot."