There’s a Wolf in the B-A-N-A-N-A-S
By Jeff Mapes
If you are out traveling this great country this summer, you might run into an exhibition baseball team that provides entertainment as well as competition on the field. The Savannah Bananas, based in Savannah, GA., are playing over 70 games in their 2023 Banana Ball World Tour.
The Bananas’ roster has a bit of local flare to it. Former Davis Middle School student Mat Wolf has been a parttime pitcher for the team for two seasons.
Wolf and the Bananas will make three appearances in Oklahoma at the end of this month. They will play May 26-27 in Oklahoma City at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and May 29 at the OneOK Field in Tulsa.
Wolf has been an Oklahoma City fireman for six years. On his days off at the firehouse, the 2006 Sulphur graduate joins the team whenever he can.
“I’ve got six years in here at Oklahoma City and I’m invested in ten,” Wolf explained. “I work 10 to 11 days a month on 24-hour shifts. There will be a span of four days that I’ll get off once or twice a month. I’ll take those and go to their games they’re having.”
The tour covers 22 states, 33 cities and runs for seven months. They began back in February in Florida and will finish in New York in September.
“We just kind of strategically placed on my days off,” Wolf continued. “I’ve had to use every day that I’m allotted. Almost every day I’m allotted, I’ve used. I’ve used all my time, and with the days off I get with the fire schedule, to make it work parttime, I’ll make it to over half their games.”
Owners Jesse and Emily Cole bought the rights to the stadium and the Savannah college team in 2015. The couple soon went into debt and were forced to sell their home to finance the team.
In February of 2016, the Coles changed the name of the team to the Bananas. They hoped to reinvent the game of baseball.
At a Bananas game, players do choreographed dances and there is fan interaction throughout the contest. They have a senior citizen’s dance team named the “Banana Nanas.” They also have a male cheerleading team called the “Mananas.”
The Bananas play the “Party Animals” each game, and according to Wolf, they will compete against 16 other pro teams this season. There are nine rules at Banana Ball.
Every inning counts. It is the same as match play in golf.
There is a two-hour time limit to the game.
No stepping out of the batter’s box or it is a strike.
No bunting or you are ejected from the game.
Batters can steal first base on a passed ball or wild pitch.
No walks. It is a sprint.
One-on-one showdown tiebreaker. The pitcher, catcher and one fielder against the batter.
No mound visits by coaches.
If a fan catches a foul ball, it is an out.
Wolf began his college career at North Central Texas College in Gainesville. He transferred to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant and finished playing college baseball in 2012 at East Central.
His first coaching experience came while in college when he helped on the Sulphur staff. He continued to help the Bulldogs after graduation.
Wolf was the head baseball coach at Chattanooga for two seasons. He also coached and taught at El Reno and Mustang. He was hired to the Oklahoma City Fire Department in 2017.
Wolf learned of the Bananas through his baseball connections and his wife Magean encouraged him to audition. He tried out for the team last year.
“Baseball is a lot like firefighting. It’s a big fraternity,” Wolf said. “There’s a guy I played ball with from Latta, Tyler Gillum. I played ball with him growing up and we were pretty good buddies. He happens to be the head coach of the Bananas’ college team.”
We’ve been going out there to watch him coach for the last few years,” Wolf continued. “I happened to be over at his house during one Spring Break. He was talking about they were going to make a pro team. I thought it was so cool and it fit my personality. My wife contacted the owner, and he sent her an invitation to an audition. He’s now the head coach of the Bananas.”
Magean, a Plano, Texas, native who played softball at Oklahoma City University, has teamed up with her husband during a Bananas’ game. She pitched to Wolf as a catcher. It marked the first married-couple battery in Banana Ball history.
Wolf’s family once owned a ranch between Wynnewood and Joy. He tries to honor his family and his heritage by dressing as a rodeo clown at the Bananas’ games.
“There’s a lineage of Mat Wolfs that were firefighters, but they were also kind of characters,” Wolf said. “They did carnival-like stuff at the ranch. I wanted to honor that side of my family, so I dressed up like a rodeo clown.”
“My dad had a short stint as a rodeo clown, real short,” Wolf continued. “He didn’t get to carry on that dream, but he owned an old pair of pants a famous clown gave him named Rex Dunn. I said if I’m old and washed up, I better have something that will stand out. I thought it would be a pretty cool thing because I’ve always liked the rodeo.”
Nearly all the Bananas’ games are now a sellout. There is also a reported waiting list of 500,000 people for tickets.
“With what I’m getting to get away with, I really wasn’t a pitcher in high school,” Wolf said. “I was an infielder in college. I’ve always liked to joke around, and baseball has always been my outlet. So, it’s kind of my happy place and forget the stresses of the world.” Usually, it’s in the form of goofing off, being creative and having fun,” Wolf continued. “I get to do all these ball tricks I’ve done growing up and I’m finally getting to put that to use.”