A ballhawk is someone whose hobby is snagging baseballs from Major League games.
He is so successful at ballhawking that he has caught more than 7,000 baseballs in his career and this summer alone he caught at least one game ball at every major league ballpark. He’s even invented his own tricks for how to get balls during batting practice and games.
As I mentioned, he writes a blog where this summer he wrote about his adventures teaming up with BiGS Sunflower Seeds for a challenge called BiGS Baseball Adventure to raise money to Pitch In For Baseball for each ball he got at an MLB game.
Matt’s Bats: Zack, you are world famous for your collection of baseballs. When and how did you get your first one?
Zack Hample: It was tossed to me by a Mets player during batting practice at Shea Stadium on June 20, 1990. Unfortunately I don’t remember who.
MB: How many balls do you have in your collection? What’s the most special?
ZH: My total is up to 7,157. The most special ball is the final home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium. I caught that one on the fly on September 28, 2008.
Zack at Nationals Park with his 28th (!!!) Ball of the Day
MB: So, I know your first book was all about how to get baseballs when you go to a game, but can you share with Matt’s Bats reader what are your 3 best tips to getting a ball at a game?
ZH: 1. Show up early for BP. 2. Bring a glove, and 3. Make sure you have some room to run.
MB: One of the craziest things I’ve seen you do is the “glove trick” to get a ball. How did you come up with that?
ZH: I invented the glove trick after the 1992 season, I think. Basically, I needed a way to reach all the balls that rolled onto the warning track below me at Yankee Stadium, but then I realized how useful it was in other stadiums. Turner Field is the best place for it.
MB: The glove trick is pretty crazy in my opinion. But what do you think is the craziest thing you’ve done to get a ball? What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen at a game?
ZH: After a game in Kansas City in 2009, I kind of hid in the stadium until all the security guards had left. Then I climbed down into the gap behind the center field wall and grabbed nearly a dozen balls that had been sitting there for days. Thankfully I didn’t get in trouble, but looking back on it, it was pretty dumb.
The craziest stuff I’ve seen probably happened in the bleachers at the old Yankee Stadium. There was one guy with a big afro that would light his hair on fire every once in a while and then shake his head to extinguish the flame.
MB: What are the best experiences you’ve had ballhawking?
ZH: The best individual moments are when I catch important home runs. The best overall thing is that I’ve gotten to meet so many people and have lots of interesting experiences along the way. Visiting the Rawlings Baseball Factory in Costa Rica happened as a result of ballhawking and making connections and writing about it and getting lucky.
MB: I saw the picture of your black eye. Is that the worst injury you’ve gotten from ballhawking? Have you seen people get hit by balls or bats in the stands?
ZH: My worst injury was the sprained ankle I suffered on June 3, 2011 at Citi Field. I had to use crutches and wear a boot for three weeks. The black eye could’ve been worse, but thankfully that ball got me in a spot that didn’t wreck my vision. I also cracked a rib on August 30, 2008 at Angel Stadium.
I’ve seen a bunch of fans get drilled over the years, and I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.
MB: Getting a ball is so rare for most people. How do you feel about people being pressured throw back opposing teams home run ball at places like Wrigley Field?
ZH: It’s a cool tradition, but it’s not a law. If you catch a visiting team’s home run at Wrigley or anywhere else and you want to keep it, then do it. Peer pressure is dumb. Be strong.
MB: Another question that comes up a lot has to deal with grown-ups who catch a ball at a game. Do you think adults should keep it as a souvenir or give it to a kid?
ZH: I don’t think there’s one rule that everyone should follow. If a grown-up catches a ball and wants to keep it, fine. If the grown-up wants to give it away, fine. To each his (or her) own. I can tell you, though, that when I was a little kid, I wouldn’t have wanted a ball that someone else caught. I wanted to get one on my own, and I respect all the kids out there today who feel the same way.
MB: I wanted to ask you about the BiGS Sunflower Seeds Baseball Adventure that you wrote about on your blog this summer.
ZH: I was fortunate to be sponsored this season by BIGS Sunflower Seeds. They sent me to all 30 stadiums, challenged me to snag a game-used ball at all of them, and donated $500 to the charity Pitch In For Baseball for each venue where I succeeded. I ended up going 30-for-30 and raising the maximum amount of $15,000.
MB: So now that you’ve been to each stadium, what’s your favorite ballpark? Any you don’t like?
ZH: My favorite is Camden Yards [Orioles], followed by Rangers Ballpark [Rangers] and Kauffman Stadium [Royals]. My least favorites are Yankee Stadium and Citi Field — quite a shame considering I live in New York City.
MB: Finally, now that the post-season has started, what are your predictions– who’s going to win the World Series?
ZH: I think the Red Sox will beat the Dodgers in the World Series.
Check out this video with his many TV appearances.