Going Bananas, again: Springfield native plays with popular Savannah baseball program

Northwestern coach on second stint with hottest team in America: ‘I can’t sugarcoat it. It’s awesome.’

Credit: Ashley Smithson

Credit: Ashley Smithson

SPRINGFIELD — Earlier this spring, Springfield native and Northwestern High School baseball coach Gage Voorhees got an offer he couldn’t refuse — a chance to rejoin the “greatest show in sports,” the national touring Savannah Bananas.

Voorhees, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher, recently signed to play for the Savannah Bananas new developmental squad, the Visitors. The team is playing against the Bananas this weekend at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Voorhees, a Northwestern grad and former Champion City King, played with the Savannah Bananas for the summer in 2022, winning the Coastal Plain League title in the organization’s last season of summer collegiate baseball. Since that time, the Bananas have become a touring cultural phenomenon, selling out cities across the country.

“I grew up playing baseball since I was four years old,” Voorhees said. “It’s not quite literally all I know in life, but it’s been such a huge part of my life that I couldn’t imagine living without it.”

Credit: Ashley Smithson

Credit: Ashley Smithson

The organization recently played its Banana Ball format — games are played in under two hours and include several new rules such as batters stealing first and fans catching foul balls for an out — in front of 37,000 fans at Fenway Park in Boston.

The waitlist for tickets currently stands at 2.7 million people, Voorhees said.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I can’t sugarcoat it. It’s awesome. Even just seeing how much it has grown from when I was there in 2022, it’s astronomical. … It’s exciting, it’s amazing, but it’s humbling at the same time that something so small became so big in a matter of a couple of years and thinking about where it has the potential to go with the team, it’s really exciting. I’m really excited to see what happens within the next couple years.”

The Bananas, who were founded in 2016, are known for their theatrics at the ballpark, including choreographed scoring celebrations, dancing first base coaches and umpires and the Banana Nanas, a senior citizen dance team.

With a year of Banana Ball under his belt, Voorhees will serve as a mentor to the new players on the Visitors roster in hopes of making one of their full-time squads. The organization currently has two other teams who play the Bananas — the Party Animals and the Firefighters.

“I’m not only there to play Banana Ball, but I’m there to teach all these other guys about Banana Land, Banana Ball and — for lack of a better term — how to be a Banana Baller,” Voorhees said. “I’ll show them how to interact with fans, how to basically be a part of everything that they’ve already started.”

More than 4,000 athletes have expressed interest in playing for the Bananas, Voorhees said. He was humbled and excited to receive a call to return to the organization, he said. He played collegiately at Sinclair Community College, Cedarville University and Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla.

“It’s a privilege. It’s not something not a lot of people get to do,” Voorhees said. “I’m not trying to make the direct comparison by any means, but there are a lot of kids and college athletes growing up who want to play pro ball. The odds of that happening are very slim, very small.”

After being out of baseball for a year-and-a-half, Voorhees started the Visitors first-ever game against the Party Animals on the mound on June 13 at Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Ga.

“It took me an inning to get readjusted back into it,” he said. “Finding the ability to go out there and have fun with the guys that are there and be able to throw my strikes the best I can, that’s really all they ask me for.”

As the pitcher, Voorhees has to keep the fans engaged, he said.

“All eyes are on you,” Voorhees said. “You’re on camera 70 percent of the time because you’re the one touching the ball every time it’s thrown. I just tried to do what I could and have fun.”

Earlier this year, Voorhees stepped onto the field in a different capacity — head coach. Northwestern finished the season 5-18 in his first season with his alma mater.

“It was really humbling and gratifying to get an opportunity to coach at such a young age,” he said. “We may not have had the best season, but it was definitely a learning experience for not only the players but for me as well. I felt like me and my coaching staff did a great job conveying to those young men the ins-and-outs of baseball and what it takes to get to the next level.”

When he got the call to return to Savannah, the players were the first ones to tell him to seize the opportunity, Voorhees said.

“They were on board immediately,” he said.

Voorhees also recently became a business owner. He purchased the Buckeye Barn, a family business that was founded by his grandfather Philip Morrow in 1976. Voorhees’ brother Cain is running the business while he’s chasing his dream in Savannah.

“I’ve got a lot of really good people working for me behind the scenes at the Buckeye Barn,” Voorhees said. “I would never be able to (come to Savannah) and do this if it wasn’t for the people around me who have supported me, not just for this year, but for all of these years. Being able to own a business, be a head coach and come play for the hottest team in sports right now doesn’t happen (without them). It absolutely, 100 percent does not happen. I just got lucky. To put it as simply as I can, I got lucky. … I have a huge support system all the way around and I can’t thank the people of Springfield enough.”

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