former MLB player Eric Byrnes

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The first contact came from Bill LeRoy, who graduated from the Savannah Bananas College Summer League baseball team to his spin-off, the Banana Ball Professional Travel Team.

Eric Byrnes then heard from team owner Jesse Cole, who called out the former big league and MLB network analyst to talk about his creation of Banana Ball, an unorthodox, action-oriented baseball quirk and fun, much like Byrnes himself.

“I was an emotional player,” said Byrnes, 45. “I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to hold it back instead of being able to speak out openly. That’s all they’ve created here. The concept and idea of ​​the fans is first and foremost. everything. I would like more professional sports teams to adopt this mentality. “

Eric Byrnes celebrates with fans and the Banana Nanas after being introduced as the Banana Ball World Tour head coach on Tuesday night at Grayson Stadium.

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Cole said it was around 30 minutes after their first phone conversation that Byrnes said he wanted to manage the Banana Ball team, which in spring 2022 will play rival Party Animals as they roam seven cities, starting with Home Base Savannah on March 11-12 at Grayson Stadium.

Byrnes got the job and traveled from his home in California to Savannah for the announcement on Tuesday night.

“It was a no-brainer for us because of the energy, the love of the game,” Cole said. “He wants to make baseball fun. That’s how he played the game. It was all about the energy. He’s perfect.”

LeRoy, who played catcher for four seasons with the Bananas varsity team, was deeply into the fusion of the team’s baseball and interactive fan entertainment before, during and after games, including videos. virals online. LeRoy knows a very energetic guy when he sees one.

“(Byrnes) is absolutely crazy. He fits this place perfectly,” said LeRoy, who had messaged Byrnes, whom he did not know, via Instagram at the suggestion of Berry Aldridge, the baseball operations coordinator. of the team.

“The second I met him, he’s wide-eyed, veins sticking out of his neck when he speaks,” LeRoy continued. “He’s just really intense. He’s an energy giver; 100% of the time he’s the funniest guy there is. He loves what we’re doing here and we love him. It’s been a game. perfect. Her energy is incredible every second of the day. “

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Bananas’ front office wanted to convey this level of all-round energy and effort by revealing the hiring of Byrnes, who played 11 seasons in the majors for the Oakland Athletics (2000-05), Colorado Rockies (2005), Baltimore Orioles (2005), Arizona Diamondbacks (2006-09) and Seattle Mariners (2010).

“Whenever we think about doing something, the reason for this meeting is how can we do that completely the opposite of what everyone else would do,” said Kyle Luigs, who pitched for the Bananas during four summers in the Coastal Plain League and will now play for the Banana Ball team, formerly known as the Premier Team.

Soak a lot

In this case, the opposite of a normal (read: boring) press conference featuring Byrnes involved fans, a DJ, the Banana Nanas dance team, the Cole in the yellow tuxedo on top of a scissor lift, a police escort and the new manager smashing through a banner. I’m not sure if someone Cole described as “an absolute power plant” should have been in a dunk tank, but Byrnes was a good sport because he was inevitably soaked.

Eric Byrnes splashes water after being submerged Tuesday night outside Grayson Stadium.  Byrnes has been introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team.

Eric Byrnes splashes water after being submerged Tuesday night outside Grayson Stadium. Byrnes has been introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team.

“A great thing about Banana Ball is openness and Jesse’s willingness to try different kinds of things,” Byrnes said of discussing the format, which includes some unusual rules to speed up the game and create more action. and dramatic possibilities.

The nine rules do not include bunting, mound tours, battering out of the box, or walks (in the conventional sense). A fan who catches a foul ball is an out. Rounds are counted individually as a match play in golf, with the first team on five points winning the game. There is a two hour time limit and a special tiebreaker format.

“All of those things are ways to bring people back to baseball and really appreciate it for what it is,” Byrnes said. “I immediately knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. It’s bigger than the game. It’s different. It revolutionizes baseball as we know it.

“Does that mean that’s how it’s going to be in the future? Not necessarily. But we’re taking something that’s really got to a point where we’ve lost a lot of our youth, and with a short attention span, I can I can’t think of anything that can really satisfy that more than Banana Ball. “

Eric Byrnes was a ball of energy on Tuesday night when he burst through the banner after being billed as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for their 2022 world tour at Grayson Stadium.

Eric Byrnes was a ball of energy on Tuesday night when he burst through the banner after being billed as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for their 2022 world tour at Grayson Stadium.

Tour schedule

Byrnes will guide his team of former college and pro players against their foil, the Party Animals, with the two squads designed for a competitive balance after practice in February.

The initial pandemic-limited spring 2021 series involved two games in Savannah and a two-game “One City World Tour” sold out at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

The 2022 tour expanded to seven cities: Savannah and Columbus, Georgia; Daytona Beach and West Palm Beach, Florida; Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; and Kansas City, Missouri, the only trip requiring air travel.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole in a yellow tuxedo introduces Eric Byrnes as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2020 World Tour in a press conference Tuesday night at Grayson Stadium.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole in a yellow tuxedo introduces Eric Byrnes as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2020 World Tour in a press conference Tuesday night at Grayson Stadium.

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Byrnes, a native Californian with homes in Lake Tahoe and Half Moon Bay, isn’t the type to cringe on long bus trips. He is an endurance athlete who completed a “Triathlon Across America” from Oakland to New York involving a 7 mile swim, 2,400 mile bike ride and a 905 mile run.

This is the same guy who played 420 holes of cartless golf in 24 hours to set a “Guinness Book World Record” and can be proud of being inducted into the UCLA Track and Field Hall of Fame. in 2103 and selected at Oakland Athletics’ all-time best for their 50th season team.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole watches from an elevator as Eric Byrnes dances after being introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2022 world tour on Tuesday night at Grayson Stadium.

Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole watches from an elevator as Eric Byrnes dances after being introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2022 world tour on Tuesday night at Grayson Stadium.

With all that Byrnes has accomplished as a professional baseball player and broadcaster, he also impressed 23-year-old LeRoy and Luigs, each, with how quickly he fitted into an office filled with young people relatively new to the game. baseball industry.

“We have such a great relationship,” said LeRoy. “I have such respect for Eric Byrnes. The guy played 11 years in the big leagues. He comes here so humble and treats me, Kyle and everyone in this office like a friend and knows people by name, knows what they are doing, knows their job, takes time to make personal connections.

Luigs, a Richmond Hill High School graduate, shared how Byrnes told them about Banana Ball and found players who were able to both play baseball at a high level and be artists. Luigs also commented on his new high energy friend.

Eric Byrnes waves to the crowd after getting drenched Tuesday night outside Grayson Stadium.  Byrnes has been introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2022 World Tour.

Eric Byrnes waves to the crowd after getting drenched Tuesday night outside Grayson Stadium. Byrnes has been introduced as the head coach of the Banana Ball team for the 2022 World Tour.

“Every second that we were in the office for the past two days, if they don’t do anything, he immediately runs into Daffin Park. He goes back and forth and the ideas are there,” Luigs said. “Obviously he knows good baseball and he could bring some talent to push Banana Ball and the brand to the next level. The combination of those two things is just perfect.”

Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor for Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: New Savannah Bananas Banana Ball coach, MLB player Eric Byrnes

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