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Buffalo goes bananas for traveling baseball show

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When Ryan Cox last appeared on a Western New York ballfield, he was a clean-cut freshman at St. Bonaventure University, known to teammates as “Coxy.” A decade later, he returned with smiles painted on his bearded face, cotton candy-colored hair with matching painted nails, a chunky diamond necklace outshining his wrist full of friendship bracelets, hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and a new nickname.

“The Glove Magician” performed one of the myriad highlight plays in the first of three sold-out Savannah Bananas games at Sahlen Field on Friday night. Bouncing the ball behind his back before throwing out a runner, the shortstop peeled open his Bananas jersey to show off a SportsCenter Top 10 t-shirt, commemorating the traveling baseball troupe’s first game broadcast in prime time on ESPN.

“Western New York is known for its passionate fans, the Bills Mafia,” said Cox, who hails from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and finished his college baseball career at Kutztown State. “I’m excited for them to be part of the show. This is the biggest place we play that’s not an MLB stadium.”

A crowd of close to 16,000 people filled every seat for the opener at Sahlen Field, and will do so again for two weekend games. Many more were unable to secure tickets in a lottery. Several thousand fans lined up outside the ballpark for more than an hour before gates opened for general admission.

Scenes outside Sahlen Field before gates open for Savannah Bananas opener in Buffalo pic.twitter.com/FhslU4TFuW

— Jonah Bronstein (@lebronstein) July 5, 2024

But barely a moment goes by when spectators aren’t being entertained. From the plaza party featuring a nine-piece pep band, players signing and dancing alongside team owner Jesse Cole in his signature yellow tuxedo and top hat, more musical numbers and audience interaction segments during the hourlong pregame festivities on the field, and an energetic, fun-focused game presentation emphasizing trick plays, elaborate dance celebrations, the Bananigans come fast and furious.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the ballpark,” Cox said. “It might be the most jubilant you’ve ever been leaving an event.”

Tom Prince, a local baseball advocate and coach, compared the atmosphere in and around Buffalo’s downtown ballpark with three summers ago when the Toronto Blue Jays made Sahlen Field their home for six weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.

“You are really going to see huge excitement for what is happening in Buffalo,” Prince said. “And then we’re going to see these highlights on Channel 4 or TikTok later and be able to say: I was there.”

Prince’s college-age son Luke has been following the Bananas on social media for years and was enthused to see the performance in his hometown.

“This is my dream,” he said. “These guys are electric. A lot of times baseball and other sports can be too serious. These guys are all about fun, and that’s why I really like what they are doing.”

“Every game is an event,” has been the promotional motto since Buffalo’s stadium opened to sellout crowds in 1988. The Bananas visit captured that ethos, coming after a two-week stretch that included the popular Taste of Country concert at Sahlen Field, and a nine-game homestand culminating with the Independence Eve fireworks display featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the signature fan experience on the Buffalo Bisons schedule.

“We try to have fun with all our theme nights here, and this is a great example of how fun baseball can be,” said Brad Bisbing, assistant general manager for the Bisons. “It should be a fantastic weekend of fun here, and having it on ESPN is a nice way to showcase Buffalo and this beautiful ballpark.”

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Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.

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