Zach Smith performs a TikTok dance. He steps up to bat and hits a single. He runs to first base in a bright yellow kilt, points to his coach’s shirt, and as the coach looks down, Zach kisses him on the head. This is no ordinary baseball game. This is the Savannah Bananas.
Smith, a pitcher for the ACU Wildcat baseball team from Abilene, accepted the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing for the Savannah Bananas this summer after one of the Bananas’ coaches reached out to ACU assistant coach Blaze Lambert. Lambert recommended Smith and his adventure began.
Smith explains this experience is an unexpected one every night.
“You get to play in front of a crowd that is sold out every night. People are there to see you. I think that’s the best thing about Savannah; you never know what you’re going to expect,” Smith said.
Baseball has been a part of Smith’s life for as long as he can remember, starting with his dad creating a baseball field in his backyard in elementary school. That’s where his love for baseball came from, his family, he said.
Smith’s baseball journey has not been an easy one. When a previous commitment out of high school fell through, former ACU head coach Britt Bonneau gave him another opportunity by letting him walk on the team. While at ACU, he experienced tearing his UCL twice, leading to rehab sessions that took him out of the game for two years. Now fully recovered, he is one of the leading pitchers at ACU.
“Zach has been a centerpiece to our program since our staff arrived over four years ago,” current ACU head coach Rick McCarty said. “His experiences here at ACU allow him to take the lead in a variety of ways both on and away from the field. He adds value to our growing program each day. I’m fired up to have him back one more year.”
In Savannah, the players hold to their motto of ‘Fans First. Entertain Always,’ and their passion is evident in every game they play. From wearing bright yellow kilts on the field to dancing on top of the dugout shirtless, the Bananas have kindled a bond between players and fans.
If kids see the players doing fun, silly things, Smith said, it shows the kids their dreams are reachable.
The Bananas capitalize on fun, engaging activities. A typical game night for the Bananas is not what Smith is used to, especially coming from Abilene.
“When you get there you have a set list of what you are going to do for the night,” Smith said. “One day I got there and it was my name and three other guys for a player dance. So during warmups and batting practice, we’re working on this choreographed dance that we have to do at the end of the second inning. I’m stressing out about it, cause I’m not much of a choreo-dance guy. You’re not even thinking about the game, you’re just worried about the dance. So when that’s over, you just have a big weight off your shoulder and I just get to play baseball.”
It was a different kind of baseball. Savannah Bananas head coach Tyler Gillum had this vision in mind and knew he wanted to bring Smith into this change of scenery because of his outgoing personality.
“We brought Zach on and worked him into the mix,” Gillum said. “He was great since day 1, always smiling, and always in a good mood. He was always high energy, so he fit what we did with the Bananas really well because we do a lot of entertainment. He was able to pitch really well and entertain really well with his good, outgoing personality. He was really solid for us all summer, a great kid.”
During the summer, according to PointStreak, Smith created an overall 2.07 ERA in the Bananas regular season and secured the win in the third playoff game, 8-3. Yet, that was not the most challenging part of his summer. The challenge was the uncertainty. He never knew what he would get himself into that day, he said.
“I didn’t think I’d be dancing on dugouts with my shirt off,” Smith said. “That was my first night out there, and I was terrified doing that in front of 4-5,000 people. But as soon as the moment came, it just felt normal.”
Antics like dancing on the dugouts help the Bananas dominate their social media presence. With over 3.2 million followers on TikTok, 717,000 on Instagram, and having just debuted their miniseries on ESPN+, Bananaland has taken the internet by storm.
Their large media presence leads to sold-out crowds in Savannah, so the players learn to treat every kid and every fan like it’s their first or last game. Their main goal is to engage the fans and fill their eyes with joy. Smith said this was far different from anything he has experienced before, and that is because of the fans.
“Everything was different. People are there to see you,” Smith said. “The closest thing I can compare it to is when we played Texas Tech and it was a sold-out crowd. But even then, the fans are so much more engaging with the players. That’s what is so special about Savannah.”
The Savannah Bananas have created a new era for baseball built on that special connection with fans. Smith is grateful for the opportunity he was given to live his childhood dream.
“A lot of people would compare college sports like a grind or job, but if you just go out and have fun, it’s not a grind at all,” he said. “ You just get to live your dream you had as a kid and I’m glad I got to do it in Savannah.”