Photo of Zack Hample with his baseball collection.  

Image Credit: Zack Hample

See that guy in the photo with the buckets of baseballs? That's Zack Hample. Looks just like your ordinary baseball fan that you'd encounter in any 1 of the 30 Major League ballparks on any given night. But he's not just your average baseball fan. Far from it.

Zack is part celebrity, part philanthropist, part author and part world traveler. Many of us want to see all 30 Major League ballparks in person. Zack accomplished that feat years ago and has done it many times over. Zack is known for being the fan with the world's largest collection of baseballs from Major League Baseball games. He acquires them at games like you and I acquire hot dogs. We first learned about Zack when we stumbled upon his MLB hosted blog. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us and other baseball fanatics. 

First of all, you were recently in Australia for the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants series to open the 2014 Major League Baseball season. What was that experience like? I hear the flight to Australia is brutal.

"The travel was especially brutal for me. For some reason, when I booked my trip, the cheapest option was to fly through Dubai, so I had a pair of 13-hour flights. Getting home at the end of it all took 43 hours door to door because I started in Alice Springs in Central Australia. That said, it was totally worth it. Seeing Major League Baseball in a new place is always exciting, and the Australian people really seemed to embrace it."


You've been featured on Jay Leno, ESPN, Baseball Tonight and many other news outlets. Over the years, are baseball fans starting to recognize you more and more and do you enjoy the recognition? 

"Back in 2006 and 2007, I got recognized dozens of times per game at Shea Stadium because the New York Mets featured me on their cable network and then kept airing it. That was cool at first but quickly got annoying, but overall, I do enjoy being recognized. It's nice to be noticed for doing something unusual and being good at it."



I know Heath Bell and yourself are close friends. Are you acquainted with any other players in the league and are you able to spend time with them when baseball is out of season?

"Heath is the only player I've seen or communicated with outside of stadiums, but lots of other guys have recognized me over the years. Veteran player Jeremy Guthrie is next on the list. We've had some funny encounters. Every time he sees me, he gives me crap about not having written him into my last book, The Baseball."



Tell us a little about your charity. How it works and how you initially got started with it. 

"In 2009 I started using my baseball collection to raise money for a charity called 'Pitch In For Baseball', which distributes baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Basically, I get people to pledge money for every ball I snag. I typically get about 500 balls per season so if someone pledges just one penny per ball, it ends up turning into a five-dollar donation. With everyone's help, I've raised more $38,000 so far."



Which ballparks are your favorite and least favorite to attend a game in and why? 

"Camden Yards is my favorite because it's not too crowded, the prices are reasonable, the ushers are friendly, there aren't too many rules, and there's lots of room to run around for balls. No matter where you go, there's a cross-aisle, and out in right field, there's a standing-room area which is great for chasing game home run balls. My least favorite place, by far, is Yankee Stadium because of the crazy prices, restrictive rules, insane crowds, and sinister vibe."



Would you call Dodger stadium the least accessible and biggest headache for fans to get to? It has no trains, sits away from downtown Los Angeles, no bars, restaurants or hotels nearby and you can only enter and exit certain parking gates and stadium gates. 

"Yeah, it's awful, and for me, the worst thing about it is that the parking lots open at the same time as the stadium itself. Think about that. You can't be in two places at once, so in order to make the most of batting practice, you have to sneak into the parking lot on foot. It's dumb."




I've found that for day games, sitting out in the hot sun just drains the life and energy out of me. My body can't get used to them. How do you feel after enduring 9 innings out in the sun chasing down balls?

"That's why I avoid day games, although I'm more concerned about skin cancer than simply being tired. Of course, I do make exceptions; most notably at Camden Yards on July 24, 2011. It was 108 degrees and humid that day. It felt like my skin was sizzling and melting, but I sat deep in straight-away left field in the sun. There weren't too many other people in my section, and I ended up catching Mike Trout's first major league home run as a result."



A lot of fans probably look at your travels and then ponder what it costs to attend a Major League Baseball game. $100 for a hotel room, $9 for a beer, $6 for a hot dog, ticket prices will vary, $20+ for parking. Many fans  want to know how you are able to afford going to so many ballparks. Have the books you've authored allowed you to freely travel? Or is it that living in New York, so many ballparks are within a few hours driving distance for you? Or have you just visited them slowly over a long period of time?

"Last season I was sponsored by BIGS Sunflower Seeds and got to visit all 30 major league stadiums for free, but okay, I'll admit that was unusual. Generally, when I travel, I try to stay with friends. When I get hungry at games, I usually grab a protein bar from my backpack. I usually buy the cheapest seats, sometimes find free parking or just use public transportation, and so on. It's easy to spend a ton of money traveling to games, but I've done it so much that I'm good at cutting out the excess. But whatever. This is what I do, so if I had to spend more, I would. Some people spend their money on clothes or fancy restaurants or luxurious vacations; I go to baseball games."



Being a New Yorker, are you interested in teams in other leagues (NFL, NHL, NBA) Or do you even pay much attention to the other leagues?

"I don't care at all about other sports. I used to be obsessed with basketball (and my vertical leap) in the early 1990’s, but now it's just Major League Baseball for me."



We conducted a previous interview with a gentleman named Mike Nolan from Philadelphia. Like you, he has seen all 30 MLB ballparks but his goal was to see a baseball game in all 50 states. He was able to see adult league games in Hawaii and Alaska and many of the other 48 states at least had minor league teams. Is this something you could see yourself doing or wanting to do on down the road?

"Definitely not. I've really enjoyed seeing regular-season major league games in random places, but that's where I draw the line."



For the fans that don't know, you've caught the last Mets home run ball at Shea Stadium, Mike Trout's 1st home run ball, and one of Barry Bonds' home run balls before he broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. Which by the way, is mind-boggling. Are there any other milestone balls or balls of interest that you've snagged recently?

"Thanks. One of my favorite balls that I caught was Derek Jeter's 3,262nd career hit, which happened to be a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium. This isn't too recent, but I also snagged the final-out ball of Mariano Rivera's 313th career save. That was back in the days when closers would routinely toss game-ending balls into the crowd. I still cherish that ball and vividly remember that moment."



Are there or have there been security guards or ushers that recognize you and intentionally try to keep you from snagging balls at the stadium or are most pretty cool?

"There have been more than I can count, and let's just say it hasn't always been positive. I've certainly gotten some favors from friendly ushers, but it seems that the majority of them could use a lesson on how to be civil."




Many thanks to Zack for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. Be on the lookout for Zack at your local Major League stadium this summer! 


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