Mike Trout has hit his fair share of home runs in his young career, but there is one that still remains special: His first. Trout hit his first dinger three years ago in Baltimore. It sailed far past the leftfield wall of Camden Yards, but somehow it found the webbing of a glove anyway.
It was the glove of Zack Hample, who had run across empty seats and leapt into the row behind him to make what seemed like an improbable catch. But there was no luck involved.
Hample has caught 7,600 balls in what you might call his “career” as a ballhawker. It’s a number that he makes sure to update every time he attends a game because he often comes home with five or 10 baseballs. He has written three books, one of which contains information on how to snag a homerun ball. His impressive collection can put any array of priceless baseball cards to shame.
Put another way: It might be a good idea to seek Hample out if you’re looking to snag a home run. He’s a walking magnet for baseballs.
A Fixture at the Ballpark
In that July game three years ago, security surrounded Hample, coaxing him to give the ball back to Trout. But it wasn’t Hample’s first time in this situation — he also caught Barry Bonds’ 724th career homer, Derek Jeter’s 254th, and the last home run ever hit at Shea Stadium. With that kind of experience under his belt, Hample knew he had the bargaining chips.
“I told them, ‘You don’t have to give me anything. I just want to be the one to hand it to him myself after the game,’” Hample remembers.
Trout has since acknowledged Hample upon seeing him prowling the outskirts of the stadium bleachers. Because of such repeated success, Hample has become well known in certain ballparks, and receives a begrudging kind of respect from fans and players alike.
Jared Weaver even said he was impressed when Hample showed off the “glove trick,” a special mitt he uses that can be lowered to the ground with a string to haul a ball off the warning track.
“One of the better players in major league baseball telling me that I’ve done something impressive, that’s an awesome feeling,” Hample says.
It isn’t always a walk in the park for Hample. He has run into problems with security in certain stadiums with stricter rules. And people aren’t always thrilled to see him walking away with his hands full of baseballs. But Hample acknowledged that he’s always respectful.
“If I do jump and catch a homerun and there’s a kid right there, I’ll flip him the ball,” he says.
A Passion for the Game
Although he has been to 1,100 baseball games, visited 51 ballparks and worn the shirts of both teams playing on a certain day, Hample said that he doesn’t root for a particular team.
“I just consider myself a baseball fan, I think maybe I’ve become jaded having been to so many stadiums,” he says. “I’ve come to the point where I just love the sport.”
But there’s more to collecting baseballs than just going home with a bunch of souvenirs.
In 2009 he teamed up with the charity Pitch In for Baseball. On his website, he asks for pledges so that every ball he catches donates a certain amount of money to the organization, which provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids across the globe.
“It’s nice to actually helps kids get a certain normalcy back in their lives and help them get back on the baseball and softball field,” he says.
Passion for baseball is what drives the former Division III college player to remain in such close contact with the game.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you’re not that good if you didn’t play professional baseball,’” Hample says. “Well no, I can’t throw 104 m.p.h. like Aroldis [Chapman] or hit bombs like Giancarlo [Stanton]. But I’ve found my own way to have some fun adventures.”
Check out Zack Hample's tips for snagging a home run or foul ball and become a baseball magnet, too!
Photos courtesy Zack Hample