HOUSTON (Sunday, March 10, 2024) — As part of an effort – over time – to visit the gravesites of all former Major Leaguers buried in Texas, I spent a couple of hours Sunday afternoon in Houston’s Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.

There are 17 former players – one, Eddy Dyer, who also managed – and a former umpire interred there.

The peacefulness was an unplanned and unintended balance to the cacophony of sounds that came just 24 hours before just seven miles to the west – Minute Maid Park.

In fact, walking from The Rustic restaurant to Discovery Green, in the process of meeting Baseball Bucket List founder Anna Ditomasso in person for the first time, she described – unless I imagined it – the Banana Ball experience as a “shock to the senses” of the uninitiated.

I’m a baseball traditionalist, but far from a purist.

As I shared in episode no. 111, I don’t stay for every pitch – Anna was the first to note on Saturday that the two-hour Banana Ball time limit fit my viewing meter perfectly.

I don’t score a game or have rituals that many others have in their ballpark – and baseball watching – pursuits.

And as I am in other sporting interests, I’m Mr. Anti-Hype.

I could be – and have been – turned off by a particular public address announcer.

And when Anna and Mark Jent with Simply A Fan first announced the promotion to experience Banana Ball in a Major League Baseball park for the first time ever, I must have actually conveyed enough doubt then that – after experiencing maybe a bit of FOMO and joining in – both Mark and Anna in a fun, pointed way asked me Saturday evening after it was all done what I thought.

I had a good-natured laugh.

And, more importantly, a great time.

What made it though – other than the great entertainment that the Savannah Bananas operation delivered Saturday evening – were great people.

I’m real high on professionalism – and neither Mark nor Anna disappointed in every single bit of their pre-event communication.

Absolutely top-notch. (In fact, on one communication, I actually responded when it wasn’t even intended for a person attending by themselves!)

I arrived in downtown Houston pretty early, but in plenty of time to park far away from the ballpark and to walk to make the goal of the 3:15 p.m. game of catch in Discovery Green.

A good group had gathered for a pre-game meal and Anna and her wife, Nicole, were the first to leave – escaping the delay in getting checks resolved – and I met them mid-way.

After all of that group made it to Discovery Green, and getting to meet Mark Jent for the first time, six to eight had started to play catch, but Mark had spied a couple that had gotten married and were taking pictures in Discovery Green.

He fashioned a group picture with them and I went over to explain to the photographer – and our day was made. (We knew theirs had already been made, but they had fun on our behalf.)

On the walk over to Minute Maid Park, the group broke apart and congregated again and when we were trying to figure out where we were entering the park at, I got separated thinking others were following me!

As I made a large walk around the block just west of the stadium, I saw our couple from Rhode Island and I might have casually cut in line to join them as they were the only ones I saw that I knew.

That move paid off.

While the only real delay – for us – took in the scanning process where, to me, it seemed like workers were scanning tickets with an app on their personal devices, which might or might not have had various data speeds causing delays – or the ticket database was obviously getting slammed.

In the restaurant group, we were the first three in – as the others were still in line somewhere outside the Juice Box.

I think with the first-come, first-served seating – like Southwest Airlines but on steroids – within sections, it is probably the first time in Houston’s history also that 40,000 people were encouraged to show up at the same time!

Ultimately, most of all of us convened together in section 109 down the left-field line.

And simply put, we had a great time.

Even me, the extroverted introvert that can be a bit of a curmudgeon once in a while!

Throughout the night, I don’t know if anything truly surprised me – as I was aware beforehand of the entertainment aspect and the fact the players on both teams weren’t from your local Beer Leagues – other than bringing Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt out to pitch for the Bananas.

I mentioned during the evening that if you go to a regular baseball game, you work hard to keep from being distracted by things going on around you.

At a Banana Ball game, you’re either watching, experiencing or always wondering what’s going to happen next that keeping up with the “game” is much, much harder!

To me, it was like a circus, a concert and a party with a baseball game thrown in just to get you to show up.

The music never stopped – except for announcements.

And even then, there still seemed to be a music bed playing underneath.

Taylor Swift music cuts probably won the night in the stadium sing-a-long, but I would have set the over/under on the number of songs played to be about 175.

Amazing. And with all major genres covered.

Some of my thoughts were that there are lots of things – like announcing the starting lineups of the home team and they come running out of centerfield like the Bananas did – that some lower minor or collegiate summer leagues could do for a little extra juice without being hokey, if executed with the precision and fluidity that the Bananas do it.

And their talent-level in event production is some of the best I’ve seen.

And I can’t imagine why after their success on Saturday night why every single MLB team is not signing up to host them.

But really, if you want to attend one, check out the events that Mark puts together through “Simply A Fan”.

The Saturday before I had a staff lanyard in my work as an announcer for Texas’ sixth largest marathon, but Mark and Anna put together one for everybody that had your name on it that served two purposes – 1.) made you feel like a million bucks and 2.) helped spotting others in the party that we hadn’t already met.

I had a great time also meeting and visiting with Michael Caldwell and his wife Hannah for the bulk of the three-plus hours inside the ballpark Saturday evening.

Looking forward to watching Michael work on his effort to see every single NCAA Division I college baseball stadium in the years to come.

And if anybody’s heading to the Lone Star state this year or in the years to come, I’m certain that we could get together similar meet-ups to what took place on Saturday.

Looking forward to a great baseball season in 2024!


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