Have you ever gone to a baseball game and just missed catching a foul ball? Or maybe you were lucky enough to have the third longest home run in Comerica Park history hit right at you but you thought “I won’t need a baseball glove sitting up here” and missed out on catching a historic home run?
Being on the losing side of both occurrences, it feels like an impossible feat to get a baseball. But for Zack Hample, he has done just that. With a streak that has stretched over two decades and a collection that is nearing 10,000 baseballs, Zack Hample hasn’t attended a baseball game and not collected baseball in over 20 years.
One could make the argument that Zack is the “pioneer” of what is known as “ballhawking”. Or at least put it on the map. Zack has appeared Fox, CBS, Jay Leno, ESPN and various other huge media outlets with people wondering about the craft no one has quite perfected as well as him of collecting baseballs.
His most famous catch came on June 19th, 2015 when Alex Rodriguez crushed a home run into the right field stands for his 3,000th hit. That catch opened the floodgates to unwarranted controversy when Zack decided not to give Rodriguez back his 3,000th hit right away and made sure that the New York Yankees donated a generous sum to a worthy charity of his for the baseball.
I recently caught up with Zack and he was kind enough to answer some questions about ballhawking, catching Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit and some pointers for fans everywhere that are still wondering how to get a baseball at a game.
John Czech: Zack, you could be considered the pioneer of ballhawking. How do you feel about your influence on other people who strive to do what you do? Do you enjoy competing against them at ballparks?
Zack Hample: It feels great. It’s nice to be recognized and have a positive influence over people’s enjoyment of the game. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, it’s kind of a ridiculous thing to be known for, but hey, I’ll take it! Competition is fun to a certain point, but when there are a zillion folks in BP all standing right near my spot, it does get kind of frustrating.
JC: Catching A-Rod’s 3,000th hit brought a lot of unnecessary stress and even physical damage upon yourself. At one point did you ever regret catching it? Do you ever regret giving it back and shorting your collection of what could be considered your prized baseball?
ZH: I’ve had many regrets since I snagged that ball, but if I had it to do all over again, I’d still reach down and grab it. And I’d still give it to A-Rod in exchange for a huge donation from the Yankees to my favorite charity. There were so many different ways I could’ve played it, but ultimately I didn’t want it to be all about me.
JC: What you did showed great class, by donating to charity and coming under fire by many media outlets for holding onto the ball as long as you did. You may have been able to get more money if you were to have auction it off. Do you think the return for the ball was as good as you hoped?
ZH: Thanks and yeah, the media attention was insane. There were so many lies and false reports and negative assumptions. I certainly could’ve handled myself better and said fewer stupid things, but jeez. It was out of control for a while. If I’d sent the ball to auction, I would’ve lost half the money to taxes and then faced all kinds of other problems, so I think the return was great. It was guaranteed money that I knew would be going to a very worthy cause.
JC: If there is another future milestone that is coming up for a hitter that you could catch the baseball for, what would it be?
ZH: I’m not even sure. I hardly pay attention to baseball this time of year, so when Opening Day is approaching, I’ll take a look at the career leaders and see who’s close to various milestones. I’ve always wanted to catch someone’s 100th home run, or better yet, a 300th or 500th, so we’ll see.
JC: You’ve written three great books, any plans for a new book anytime soon?
ZH: No plans right now. I’ve discovered that I enjoy my life much more when I’m not working on a book, so someone will have to give me a lot more money to make it worth my while.
JC: Being a Tigers fan and reading your blog about your trip to Tiger Stadium stung a little bit. Although your journal entries about your visit to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull was highly entertaining, if baseball was still being played there and being able to appreciate baseball history like do you do, would you have a different opinion of Tiger Stadium today?
ZH: I don’t remember what I said in that entry, but based on your question, I’m guessing that I dissed the crap out of Tiger Stadium. If that’s the case, I’m sorry, but I was just a dumb college student back then, and I was pissed off at everyone and everything. I’m sure I’d love Tiger Stadium today if I could somehow experience another game there.
JC: So I want to become a ballhawk. Three key things I need to know about trying to get a baseball every time I go to the park.
ZH: Show up early for batting practice. Bring a glove. Make sure you don’t get trapped anywhere so that you have room to run.
JC: Your top three favorites and least favorite parks to ballhawk at?
ZH: My favorites are Camden Yards, Rangers Ballpark, and Turner Field. My least favorites are Citi Field, Citi Field, and Citi Field. Honorable mention to Target Field and Busch Stadium.
JC: You’ve had some historic catches, accumulated thousands of baseballs, what’s next for you and your career of ballhawking?
ZH: I’m looking forward to reaching 10,000 baseballs and visiting new stadiums. I’ve already been to all 30 stadiums multiple times, so I always look forward to MLB opening a season overseas. I was in Australia in 2014 and Japan in 2012. I hear that London might be the next destination in 2017, so I’m already excited about that.