Young entertainer drives crowds bananas at baseball games

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Luke Strebe chats with a young fan during a Savannah Bananas baseball game this summer. MALCOLM TULLY

Luke Strebe hit it out of the ballpark this summer with the Savannah Bananas.

The 10-year-old Bluffton boy wasn't playing baseball though. He was entertaining crowds of more than 4,000 people a night. Luke co-hosted the games along with Bananas owner Jesse Cole.

While Cole wore a bright yellow tuxedo to the games, his young co-host wore light green, as in "not quite ripe yet."

Luke might not be a ripe banana quite yet, but his entertainment skills make him look like an old pro. His confidence, quick wit and ability to improvise in front of thousands of people really impressed the fans.

"We heard a lot of great things from a lot of people ... about how well Luke did and about how impressed people were with his performance," said Will Swisher, Savannah Bananas director of entertainment.

Some fans were so impressed that they wanted autographs and photos with Luke. One little boy came up to him after a game and said he wanted to be just like him. Another asked if he could follow Luke around at the game.

But Luke's mom, Donna Strebe, said he didn't really understand why he was being treated like a celebrity. She said Luke is so humble that she had to explain to him what a big deal it was for him to get the job and why other kids looked up to him for it.

Luke was the first child to co-host the Savannah Bananas. He was chosen from a group who auditioned for the position.

Anyone who has been to a Bananas game knows it's not all about baseball. It's more about the entertainment.

Swisher said 40 to 50 people work to entertain the crowds at Bananas games. There's Maceo, the breakdancing first base coach; Summer Santa, decked out in bright yellow, of course; an 18-piece pep band; a Segway-riding DJ; a senior citizens dance team known as the Banana Nanas; and the the Man-Nanas, also known as the team's official "Dad Bod Cheerleading Squad."

Luke was never a baseball fan until this summer. His dad, Jon Strebe, a P.E. teacher at Riverview Charter School and a Baltimore Orioles fan, had to give him a few lessons after he got the gig with the Bananas.

Luke said he learned a lot about baseball this summer. He liked getting to know the players and thought it was pretty cool to hang out in the dugout.

"It might have been more cool for me than it was for him," Jon said.

Of course, Jon also appreciated the quality time he got to spend with Luke, his oldest child of three, over the summer. The two would drive from Bluffton to Savannah about three times a week. They'd arrive at about 4:30 p.m., attend a meeting at 4:45 and stay until 10 or 10:30 each night.

Jon said they went to the ballpark 32 times over the summer. Swisher said it was a big-time commitment and the team was so thankful to have Luke as part of the show.

"Luke just really rose to the challenge ... and was able to shine," Swisher said, adding that the young entertainer "really just became an essential part of the show."

Swisher said he would tell Luke how things were supposed to go each night and send him out on the field. Sometimes, however, plans would change at the last minute. This gave Luke a good deal of practice with improv, something that might come in handy with his acting career.

The Riverview Charter School fifth-grader wants to be a professional actor when he grows up. He started acting with local theatre groups at age 5 and signed with an agent at age 8. He was the main character in a commercial for Mardi Gras Napkins, and recently did an ad for an all-natural cleaning product. He has also done one short film, three student films and a voiceover.

"I just love being on set, just the magic of it all," Luke said.

For someone who is used to memorizing lines, the Bananas gig was a whole new ballgame for Luke.

"The ability to be present and comment on a situation as it happened instead of following a script was crucial and something he got very good at by the end of the summer," Swisher said.

With the money Luke earned over the summer, he set aside 10 percent for his church, spent some on Legos and will save the rest.

When he's not in school or acting, Luke loves building with Legos, reading mysteries, writing his own stories and playing board games.

He said he is thankful for the opportunity the Savannah Bananas gave him and will cherish the memories of summer 2019 forever.

"Being in that whole atmosphere was a really cool thing because you know that you're a part of making someone's night," Luke said. "Anyone who's not feeling good will not be feeling bad by the end of the game because you forget about everything once you get there."

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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