Horsehide hawker plays hardball for charity while fans get testy
On June 22, Alex Rodriguez further etched his name into the history books by recording his 3,000th hit on a home run to right field at Yankee Stadium. While it was a historical night for him, it was a stressful one for the guy who caught the ball.
Zack Hample isn’t just a fan of baseball, but a collector, too. The 37-year-old ball hawk has caught more than 8,000 balls in his life—including batting practice, foul balls and home runs. But on that night at Yankee Stadium, in his aisle seat in right field—with room to run around—Hample changed his life when he corralled a ball that could be worth up to $500,000.
“It didn’t seem real; it felt like I suddenly realized my life was a scripted movie,” said Hample. “It was madness.”
While leaving his family’s bookstore, Hample informed his mom that A-Rod was sitting on 2,999 hits and that if he caught it, it would be “life changing.” His mom smiled at him, and from there he proceeded to Yankee Stadium to change his life.
Immediately after catching it, the Yankees’ security team rushed over and grabbed Hample; they wanted to negotiate for the ball. They offered him his own press conference, an appearance on the YES network, tickets and baseball memorabilia, but he declined. Then, Hample met with the team president, Randy Levine, who was completely understanding and nice to him, but also wanted to negotiate for the ball.
“I had to leave the stadium with the ball,” said Hample, who has been ball hawking since he was 12, when he got his first ball at Shea Stadium.
Hample literally wrote the book on catching baseballs, publishing How to Snag Major League Baseballs: More Than 100 Tested Tips That Really Work in 1999. He followed that with two more books, which included more tips for get-ting a ball at a game.
Hample understands that he’s good at snagging balls; however, he knew that he could take it one step further. In 2009, he teamed up with “Pitch in for Baseball,” which provides underprivileged youths with baseball and softball equipment—allowing them to play the game. People pledge money for every ball Hample catches.
“At first, people would pledge a few cents or a dollar,” said Hample, “but now I’m asking them to pledge a little more for each home run I catch.”
“For whatever they pledged previously, I’m asking them to multiple them by 100 for homers.”
Right away, before Hample ever thought to take memorabilia, he knew that he could do something good with the ball. David Rhode, the executive director for the charity, Hample and Levine met to arrange a possible donation from the Yankees. He let them do all the talking and finally relaxed.
“We talked, and he [Levine] offered to make a sizable donation,” said Hample. “I felt great that I brought everyone together for a good cause.”
Hample’s life became chaotic after catching the ball. He’s had offers from auction houses, random tweeters wanting to buy it and even History Channel’s Pawn Stars, who wanted him to sell the ball on the show. His twitter—@Zack_Hample—has increased in followers, he’s received hundreds of text messages and emails and more media requests than he has time for.
“Some people will hit me up and say that whatever the highest offer is on the ball, they can outbid it,” said Hample.
“I’m just trying to get back to normality,” said Hample. “People have just been hateful, because I didn’t give back the ball. It’s my ball and I should be able to do whatever I want with it.”
Ball hawking has become an art to Hample, who has already snagged more than 350 balls this season. He arrives at the game early, and is first in line when the gates open. From there, he runs in to the outfield seats and positions himself perfectly for batting practice. He’s received a ball in 1,101 consecutive games, and once snagged 36 balls at Yankee Stadium in a single night.
If his ball hawking stats aren’t intriguing enough, Hample is an Arkanoid world champion, a competitive Scrabble player and has a rubber band ball that weighs more than 270 pounds.
Hample has received constant hate emails from fans condemning him for not giving the ball back to Rodriguez, but he’s remained optimistic. He knows that the ball could do a great deal of good for the charity.
“Everyone has an opinion and they think I’m doing the wrong thing,” said Hample.
Hample’s background in baseball goes beyond ball hawking. While attending Guilford College, he was on the varsity team his freshman year, and was a writer for Minor League Baseball’s website, contributing game recaps.
Hample isn’t running around batting practice catching balls to sell them; he’s not interested in money for the A-Rod ball. He continues to attend games and catch balls because he enjoys it. He caught the ball for the same reason A-Rod hit it—he’s good at it.