Jake Lialios PO ’20 and Banana Ball are reinventing America’s Pastime

Jake Lialios PO ’20 is starting his first season pitching for the Savannah Party animals as they embark on a national tour. Courtesy: Jake Lialios

Jake Lialios PO ’20 recently signed with the Savannah Party Animals, a professional baseball team based in Savannah, GA gearing up for a nation-wide tour this summer. Lialios sat down with TSL to discuss his recent signing and the ways Pomona College and the Pomona-Pitzer baseball team led to this opportunity. 

This conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

TSL: Could you explain what the Savannah Bananas and the Savannah Party Animals are?

Jake Lialios: The Bananas originally started as a collegiate summer team, but over the past couple years they started experimenting as a professional team. Now it’s just the pro team full time … The Bananas are how it started, but to keep everything cohesive, they’ve made a second team so that the two can build up a rivalry but also have the structure to field a game, and that’s where they came up with the Party Animals, which is like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Generals. 

TSL: In an interview, the Bananas’ founder Jesse Cole said, “we’re not in the baseball business; we’re in the entertainment business.” How has it been adjusting to the new rules of “Banana Ball,” and what is it like playing baseball with this new focus of putting the fans first?

JL: At the end of the day, I think all athletics are entertainment … [The Bananas] have done a really good job of keeping the big picture focus in mind and getting everyone to buy in based on that and putting together a really good product with it. And with that comes the rules that you were mentioning, which are geared towards … keeping the fans as engaged as possible. 

TSL: You graduated from Pomona in 2020, and your senior season was unfortunately cut short by the pandemic. What was the process like of getting your name out there and being recruited by the Bananas after a shortened college career?

JL: I was a catcher all the way through college. [After my senior year], the plan before COVID-19 interfered with [my senior season] was to play for a professional team in Sweden … To get more utility out of [American players], [European teams] will allow them to play as two-way players, where they’ll play their position but they also might pitch sometimes. I wasn’t a pitcher … but I was like “I’ll mess around and maybe try to pitch a little bit and see what I can do with that” … then I got the news that the season in Sweden wasn’t gonna happen, suddenly my career was really over. 

But I still wanted to find some way [to play baseball], and I did fortunately know of an independent team that was local to my hometown in Tuscon, Arizona … I tried out as a two-way, ended up pitching better, and played there … I played in another independent pro league in Oregon. I was Relief Pitcher of the Year in that league in 2022 … I knew some guys who had played for the [Bananas] in the past, so that encouraged me to apply for an invitation to a tryout … I guess I had a pretty good tryout and ended up making the team. 

TSL: With a slew of former Division I athletes and some former MLB players such as Jonny Gomes spending time on the team, coming from a Division III background, what kind of jump was it like to start playing at this level?

JL: There’s a ton of talent. A lot of guys that were drafted, a couple of first round draft picks on the team even … It made me realize it’s not as drastic of a difference in talent … as you’d think … you’d be surprised how many good DIII players can fit in well with pretty good DI players when it comes to baseball … At the end of the day, I just try to think that we’re all here for the same reason. 

TSL: The Bananas’ slogan is “We make baseball fun.” What tools and lessons are you taking from your time with the Sagehens to achieve this goal with the Party Animals?

JL: The interest in playing for this team was inspired by just seeing what they were doing and feeling like I connected and I identified with that pretty well. I think a lot of that does have to do with my experience at Pomona-Pitzer because we had a really good culture and a really great group of guys that took baseball really seriously, … [but] we had a really good balance of having a lot of fun while we did it. 

TSL: What advice do you have for current members of the P-P baseball team, as well as P-P athletes in general looking to play at the next level?

JL: The advice I would have for them in general is just to really enjoy their time. People will put a lot of pressure on themselves to be successful, whether it’s sports or anything, but especially something like college athletics, whether you’re playing at the next level or not, it’s gonna end at some point. It’s the most fun they’re ever gonna have, and I just hope they can keep some perspective on the opportunity to have fun playing the game they love. 

TSL: Dancing is a huge part of what makes the Bananas and the Party Animals who they are. What is your go-to dance move this season, and what have you been doing to improve your dance skills?

JL: Sometimes you’re just born with it, man. I can move if I have to. Shoutout to John Pennington. I took Beginning Modern Dance at Pomona and I loved it … it’s a super fun cooperative experience that I really took to. It gives you a lot of good energy … you just gotta feel the music and I naturally use a lot of hips. I think that’s what the people want to see.

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