Marietta students to help Savannah Bananas baseball kick off world tour

Student group photo

Most students are traveling home or to the beach for spring break — but Spring Break 2022 for Tyler Johnston ’24 (Granville, Ohio) and eight of his Marietta College classmates means working for a premier brand in sports.

The students are spending a week working with and learning from the Savannah Bananas from March 6th through March 13th.

“Working for the Savannah Bananas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that no other college in the country has ever done,” Johnston said. “Marietta College’s Sport Management program is always actively involved in providing experiential learning.”

Rick Smith, Associate Professor for Sport Management, said the trip allows Marietta’s students to gain valuable experience outside of the classroom. “The Savannah Bananas have become somewhat of a measuring stick for other sports teams when evaluating their fan engagement, their branding, and their tickets/percentage of tickets sold.”

Smith will join Johnston and the other students — Lexi Dalrymple ’22 (Marietta, Ohio), Natalia Facchinato-Sitja ’23 (Washington, D.C.), Jacob Gangle ’24 (Findlay, Ohio), CJ Meyer ’25 (Newton Falls, Ohio), Josh Mudgett ’22 (Duncan Falls, Ohio), Hunter Stone ’24 (Findlay, Ohio), Brady Vincent ’24 (Cambridge, Ohio) and Kaylie Ward ’24 (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) — during the alternative spring break experience, which is being funded mostly by a generous donor.

“This is one of the greatest opportunities a Sport Management major could ask for,” Stone said. “Learning about the Savannah Bananas’ culture and having this experience is something special.” Stone had a similar, but shorter experience earlier this year when he and three others traveled to the University of Michigan for a weekend.

Marietta’s students will shadow Savannah employees while also gaining experience in the following areas:

  • Ticket operations and first impressions
  • Merchandise and retail
  • Fan services
  • Operations and concessions
  • In-game entertainment

“I can’t wait for this opportunity to take my education and apply it to an incredible, hands-on experience and learn from such a unique team,” said Facchinato-Sitja, who also has experience at the NFL Draft and working with ESPN Events at the Boca Raton Bowl on her ever-growing résumé.

Students applied by submitting a video that answered a few questions and then were selected based on their answers. Additionally, the entire travel party went through a Savannah Bananas culture training/orientation to acclimate themselves with the workplace and fan-first culture the organization has.

“We love doing things differently, and having a college sport management program join us to start our world tour is exactly that: it’s different,” said Marie Matzinger, Fans First Director with the Savannah Bananas. “We are excited to welcome Marietta College’s Sport Management program and look forward to teaching them the ropes, and maybe we can learn a few things from them too.”

Matzinger added that although the Savannah Bananas play “real baseball” in the summer through the Coastal Plain League, a summer collegiate baseball league, they figured out a way to make their brand year-round through creative programming, namely, their new World Tour, and their version of baseball called “Banana Ball.” In its second year, the World Tour will start in Savannah on March 12th and 13th, and then travel to other cities including Daytona Beach, Florida; Montgomery, Alabama; West Palm Beach, Florida; Columbus, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; and Kansas City, Missouri.

“This is a great opportunity to learn from the team that creates the greatest show in sports,” said Mudgett, who also has experience at the University of Michigan, NFL Draft, Boca Raton Bowl and an internship with the Capital One Orange Bowl on his résumé.

Because the Bananas’ normal talent pool of college players cannot play in the spring, they recently held tryouts to form two squads — The Savannah Bananas and the antagonist team the Party Animals — who will play a Banana Ball. Banana Ball is baseball with a few modified rules:

  • Strict two-hour time limit per game
  • Each inning is a mini-game, where whoever scores the most runs in that inning scores a point; total points at the end win
  • If a fan catches a foul ball, the batter is out
  • There’s no bunting
  • Players can steal first

 Players also announce themselves, dance, and do other non-traditional things during the game to keep fans entertained.

“Marietta College lets its students take academics from the classroom and use them in the real world by providing these kinds of learning opportunities,” Meyer said.

Smith added that the idea of working with the Bananas was “a culmination of a few things: (Natalia’s) marketing project, me listening to a podcast Bananas owner Jesse Cole was on, a colleague’s idea of doing something over Spring Break, and some students requesting to work with baseball. It all kind of came together very quickly, and the Bananas Staff has been spectacular to work with up to this point.”

Marietta College’s Sport Management program is housed within the Department of Business and Economics, and includes a strong business foundation of classes with an emphasis on industry projects and experiential learning.