Cubby's convenience store manager Dustin Vander Wel restocks bananas Tuesday in Omaha, Nebraska. Cubby's is handing out free bananas to Mississippi State University fans in honor of MSU baseball's participation in the College World Series.
Photo by: Brett Hudson/Dispatch Staff
June 21, 2018 10:49:32 AM
DeLone Wilson wanted it known that Mississippi State baseball fans joining him in Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series were specifically welcomed in his convenience stores, and he hung a banner outside his downtown storefront to prove it.
His wife went a step further: Why not feed the Rally Banana craze by giving MSU fans free bananas?
The Cubby's parking lot has been packed ever since.
Wilson is a MSU grad who is president of Cubby's, a chain of convenience stores throughout Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota with 36 locations, according to its website, most of them around the Nebraska-Iowa border Omaha occupies. Their downtown store on the corner of South 13th and Jackson streets, about a mile from TD Ameritrade Park, has been flooded with MSU fans seeking to join the Rally Banana faithful.
"We've probably given away at least three cases of bananas, I'd say an average of about 120 bananas per case. It's about 40 pounds per box," said Dustin Vander Wel, the store's manager. "I ordered a bunch of extras. We haven't made it through them yet, but we should."
Cubby's is one part of what has become a national "thing." Before MSU's first game in the College World Series, Dole -- one of the world's biggest distributors of bananas -- sent a press release announcing the company's support of the team's Rally Banana and picking it to win the national championship. The press release pointed out Dole has had a presence at the port in Gulfport for more than 50 years.
"In addition to being fun for players and fans, bananas have been shown to help athletes recover faster after peak performance than sports drinks and other foods -- so there is science behind our pick, too," Bill Goldfield, the director of communications for Dole Food Company, said in the statement.
Chiquita, another national produce company known for bananas, has tweeted its support of the Bulldogs.
The banana magic seems to be working.
Started by freshman third baseman Jordan Westburg as a lighthearted way to build team camaraderie in the dugout (ESPN cameras caught Westburg and his teammates using a banana as a telephone and radar gun during the NCAA tournament regional round), fans cleaved to their "Rally Bananas" in the stands during a string of postseason MSU elimination game victories.
In Omaha, the Bulldogs are one win away from a berth in the national finals. Only No. 3 national seed Oregon State stands in MSU's way. On Monday, Westburg drove in seven runs in a 12-2 victory against North Carolina -- and of course, he credited his potassium-rich good luck charm.
A personal connection
Wilson told The Dispatch his downtown store usually orders about one case of bananas per week. To prepare for MSU fans, though, it ordered 15 cases.
He also has found the banner hanging outside the store, which brandishes the baseball team's logo, to be a popular photo backdrop for fans.
Wilson made sure Vander Wel knew of the passion the MSU fan base displays and the onslaught he was in for. He even sent him a story about the rally banana.
This isn't a gimmick for Wilson. When it comes to the Bulldogs, it's personal.
Wilson earned a banking and finance degree from MSU in 1986, and later received a master's in business administration from the University of Memphis. From there, he worked stints in non-profit fundraising and insurance sales before moving to upper management posts in the banking field in Georgia and Kentucky.
In 2013, Wilson went to Omaha to work for Cubby's. A year later, he was president of the chain of stores.
Wilson has actively followed the Bulldogs, tracking the baseball team's progress this season from sub-.500 despondence to national title contingent.
From a business and fan allegiance standpoint, Wilson is only thinking about one thing.
"We cannot run out of bananas," Wilson said. "I'd rather have extras at the end than run out."
Wilson said he will donate extra bananas following MSU's College World Series run to local shelters.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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