Zack Hample, from New York, is a baseball fan and bawl hawk – he’s great at catching and stealing balls. But Zack isn’t an ordinary ball hawk, because no one else boasts a collection as impressive as his: more than 5,800 balls, both home runs and fouled balls. The way he goes after balls at matches can be characterized as almost professional.
A typical game for Zack Hample goes kind of like this – running around the Major League ballpark, searching for foul balls or home runs, and sometimes even convincing coaches and players to toss balls into the stands. As you can imagine, being a ball hawk is no walk in the park. It involves a lot of athleticism, a bit of science and loads of luck too. All three of which Hample has plenty of. His collection of baseballs is the largest in the world. “Yes, I’m obsessed,” he admits.
Photo: Zack Hample
During the baseball season, Hample’s only goal is to hit as many Major League stadiums as possible and snag at least a thousand balls. He will do literally anything to get a ball. “If the White Sox come out early for batting practice, I’m going to throw on my White Sox gear and start shouting at them,” he is known to have said during last year’s season. Of course, he wouldn’t bat an eyelid before he switches hats and jerseys to get a ball from a different team. While older generation ball hawks frown upon this practice (it’s almost like cheating to them), Hample says it’s okay because his only goal is to get as many balls as he can. He actually has the gift of connecting with the players, so they make a game out of throwing him the ball. “It’s cool to be connected to all these guys. It’s my own version of fantasy baseball, where I get to interact and play with numbers and feel like I’m a part of it somehow.”
Photo: Zack Hample
Hample’s obsession with ball hawking started way back in 1990, but he thinks he’s at his prime right now. He must be, given that he averages about 8-9 balls per game. One of his most ingenious strategies involves a baseball mitt rigged with a rubber band, a permanent marker and a long piece of string. This helps him fetch balls that are out of reach. He also makes sure he’s clean shaven so he looks younger at games, and asks foreign players for balls in their native languages. In spite of the huge number of balls he’s bagged, Hample says, “I try not to live for my stats. I just love baseball, and I feel like I would be going to games regardless and just being obsessed with the sport.” Hample loves baseball so much that he’s written three books about it, and also blogs regularly about his bawl hawking activities.
It’s really wonderful that Hample is not just all about hoarding balls; he tries to give back as well. An initiative he started about three years ago allows people to take pledges for every ball he collects. The proceeds are donated to Pitch in for Baseball, a charity involved in providing baseball equipment to underprivileged youths around the world. The pledge has gotten quite popular; he earns more than $7 for every ball caught. That’s such a wonderful way to combine passion and good will.