An Interview With a Ballhawk

The beauty of baseball is that there is something for everyone to love. Something that drives someone’s passion, love, and desire to watch and play the game. It could be the sights and sounds of a ballpark or watching the best athletes in the world compete at the highest level while achieving athletic accomplishments that seem unfathomable to the everyday common man.

Baseball is certainly a beautiful game with a lot to offer. For a man who goes by the name of “Ballhawk Shawn”, the love for the game is found in catching baseballs in bating practice and filming the game’s elite pitchers’ pre-game bullpen sessions before games at Miller Park.

Ballhawking has become a phenomenon over the past few years. The most famous and widely known ballhawk is Zack Hample, who has caught thousands of baseballs over his past 20-plus years of action. His most famous catch happened this year when Hample caught Alex Rodriguez‘s 3000th hit.

Being a baseball nerd, I stumbled upon Shawn’s YouTube channel and became addicted to his videos of some of the best pitchers in the game warming up in the bullpen. He has captured some of the game’s elite from nearly a batters box angle. You can almost feel the change of speeds and your knees buckle just watching the bends, breaks, and cut of the baseballs flying from all different angles.

But that’s just part of his YouTube channel. Shawn has caught home run balls from superstars such as Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday.

Interested and dying to find out more about the ballhawking lifestyle at a baseball game, I reached out to Shawn and he was kind enough to let me into his world for a few minutes.

BE: Shawn, first let me thank you for letting me ask you some questions. When did you become a ballhawk and how long have you been doing it?

BS: I suppose you could say I “became” a ballhawk in June of 2004. I had a favorite baseball player who played with the Mariners, Ron Villone, and when the Mariners visited Miller Park that summer, my wonderful mother Sue took me to go see him. Long story short, he ended up throwing me my first baseball, unexpectedly, and I decided the exhilaration was a feeling I wanted to chase. I’ve been chasing baseballs in the bleachers every summer since then.

BE: What gave you the ambition to start filming pitchers’ pre-game bullpens?

BS: I began recording pitchers’ pregame bullpen sessions when I became a sponsored YouTuber a few seasons back. I needed content, and it was a simple way to guarantee at least one video per game I attended. When I started getting video of aces like Clayton Kershaw or Masahiro Tanaka, and the like, the views took off like crazy and I knew I had to continue getting the footage.

BE: Most impressive bullpen session you’ve ever filmed?

BS: The most impressive bullpen session I’ve seen was R.A. Dickey. The video does not do the knuckleball justice. I don’t know how hitters can even square up a base hit against the guy.

BE: Was Zack Hample an influence on you to try to get a baseball every game?

BS: Zack Hample wasn’t as much of an “influence” on me as he was an “affirmation.” For a while I didn’t think ballhawking was an actual hobby, but when I saw Zack’s online content and following, I realized there was an extensive community dedicated to the craft. Zack is a cool guy and a good buddy.

BE: Best ballparks to ballhawk in?

BS: The best ballparks to hawk in are those with field level bleachers. Miller Park (my home ballpark) has mostly second-level bleachers, so it isn’t very good for ballhawking. Parks like US Cellular field (my personal favorite) would be excellent places to catch home runs.

BE: Most memorable catch you’ve ever made?

BS: I’d say my most memorable catch was Welington Castillo’s 24th career home run. I “caught” it off a few bounces out on Waveland Avenue outside of Wrigley Field in August of 2014. Not many ballhawks outside of Chicago can say they have done this, so putting myself on that short list was a great feeling and accomplishment.

BE: Favorite ballhawk story?

BS: My favorite ballhawk story would probably be another memorable game home run. On July 28, 2009, Adam Dunn hit an absolute MOONSHOT home run completely out of Miller Park off of Carlos Villanueva. I had to run OUT of Miller Park to retrieve it. Dunn hit the ball probably 510 feet to right center field. As soon as I saw the ball hit, I knew it was well over my head, so I began running back, back back…when the ball bounced out on the concourse outside of the ballpark, I quite literally sprinted to the closest exit. There wasn’t a soul out on the concourse, so I had a bit of time to run and find the ball lying behind a fence separating the sidewalk from some bushes. The fans on the second level that overlooked the concourse were cheering me on as I climbed the fence to retrieve the ball. Soon after, a camera crew found me, took a few shots of myself and the ball, and I eventually found my way back into the ballpark. Dunn signed the ball for me after the game.

BE: How many baseballs do you have?
BS: I don’t have an exact count of my baseballs. I caught my two-thousandth baseball on my birthday in July of 2012 and stopped counting after that. What I tell people when they ask is: a few thousand batting practice baseballs, 54 home runs hit during games. I’ll usually only write down details of a batting practice ball if I got it from a player I’m fond of, or if there is a good story to go along with it.

BE: Do you keep or give most of the baseballs you catch away?

BS: I give quite a lot of my batting practice baseballs away to kids, but only after the game. People always talk trash or try and intimidate me into giving baseballs away DURING batting practice, but I like to let kids try and get them on their own…they’ll probably have a much fonder memory that way.

BE: Any historic moments you’ve witnessed going to as many games as you go to?

BS: I have seen a few important events going to so many games. Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter, Trevor Hoffman’s 600th career save, Game 4 of the 2004 World Series (the game that broke the Red Sox curse) to name a few.

BE: Do you play baseball?

BS: Yes, I did play baseball all my life. Nowadays I just play catch every chance I get, and fill in on some friends’ softball teams.

BE: I assume you’re a Brewers fan based on your videos being at Miller Park. Thoughts on state of the Brewers going forward?

BS: I don’t claim to be a “fan” of any team, just an observer. Being in Milwaukee, I do go to a ton of Brewers’ games and talk a lot of Brewers’ baseball. I’m a bit of a harsh realist. Right now the franchise is really in a downward spiral. Having lost almost 100 games in 2015 and only an average farm system at best, we could be in store for a decade of losing baseball in Milwaukee. Braun isn’t going to get any better, Lucroy is a huge variable, Segura has regressed, centerfield/third base/first base are all question marks. Even if the pitching prospects beat the odds, we may not have a complementary lineup. Things will probably get much worse before they get any better.

I’m on board with the “everyone is available” mentality. Loyalty is nothing, baseball is a business.

Be sure to check out Shawn’s YouTube channel, which can be found here. Follow him on Twitter as well.

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