There's just something so refreshing about Zack Hample.

Hample obliges baseball fans with selfies, gives away balls that find their way into his glove, from batting practice to post-game toss-ups by players, and continues on as an unofficial MLB ambassador.

He's the real deal.

Everywhere Hample is spotted, there's never a wide smile not on his face or a lack of genuine enthusiasm visible. From Boston's Fenway Park to Oracle Park in the China Basin San Francisco neighborhood where the Giants thrill their fans, Hample  doesn't discriminate where he spreads his love for the game.

How cool is it to be Zack Hample?

A couple weeks back, in Boston for Game 4 of the ALDS, Red Sox hosting the Tampa Bay Rays (on Boston Marathon Monday), Hample caught not one but two home run balls smacked by Red Sox players.  Catching balls in ballparks is what Hample does better than anyone.  Anyone.

Boston's win knocking Tampa Bay out of this year's post-season was Hample's 99th MLB game attended in 2021.  His good glove work (and excellent outfield seating, too) flashed in front of the Fenway faithful appears routine by Hample but is never taken for granted.

There's been many highlights among the 11,656 balls (and counting) snagged by Hample.  Back in 1999, Hample had his first of three books published - How To Snag Major League Baseballs - More Than 100 Tested Tips That Really Work.  Hample speaks and follows of what he knows.

Among the prize balls caught over the decades is the last home run hit at Shea Stadium, on September 28, 2008, by Carlos Beltran.  Alex Rodriquez's 3,000th hit on June 19, 2015, a solo home run smacked at Yankee Stadium, landed in Hample's mitt.  Mike Trout belted his first MLB home run on July 24, 2011 at Camden Yards. Yep, Hample took ownership of this ball, too.

Still counting, 81 game hit home run balls have been caught by Hample.  Visiting 61 different MLB stadiums offers a huge advantage for Hample. But, "everyday fans" relate to him.  Hample continues to be generous with his skills. It's not uncommon to see the native New Yorker give away balls caught to others.

Although he has no favorite MLB team, Hample is a season ticket holder in the Bronx.  Well known at New York Yankees' home games, Hample is the ultimate baseball super fan.

His love for the game has gained him popularity few outside the superstar tag achieve.

Hample is a full-time YouTuber.  He has transcended his ballhawking ways to a dedicated subscriber base - to the tune of 581,000.

When searching for baseball's innocence, the stop sign stands at Hample's glove.

Attending a game and NOT catching at least one ball isn't an option for Hample.  For Game 3 of the Boston - Tampa Bay ALDS, he didn't have a ticket.

" I chose to stay in the parking lot. I've done it a bunch of times (roaming the outside of Fenway Park). I figured my chances of catching a ball were better out there," said Hample earlier this week during a phone conversation.

Book cover courtesy of Zack Hample

It's still up in the air if Hample will travel to either Houston or Atlanta for the upcoming World Series.  Travel fatigue has a way of having the body do what the mind won't.

And if Hample does decide to sit out the Series, a well deserved break is in order. Becoming the greatest ballhawk in baseball has been a gradual process for Hample.  You have to go way back to the 1990 baseball season, when Hample was 12-years-old, to have his first toss registered.  The catch at Shea Stadium was then and remains a big deal to Hample.

" I don't remember who I caught it (ball) from.  I didn't think to document it at the time."

Hample's passion comes across so refreshing in his YouTube videos.  It is obvious through his editing skills that Hample wants to take his subscribers up close and personal with him. On the day I spoke with Hample, he already had put in several hours of editing. He receives positive feedback from subscribers, and this motivates him to continue the challenge of snagging  balls wherever MLB teams travel to.

It was in 2017 that Hample collected his 10,000th ball. The milestone didn't persuade him from slowing down, or stopping altogether.  The pursuit is what motivates Hample.

Although not sponsored by MLB, the game is very much aware of Hample's ballhawking abilities.  Back in 2010 it was MLB who cleared his way to visit their Rawling's plant in Costa Rica.  Vey few outside of MLB leadership get cleared to enter this facility.

Hample's videos promote baseball.

What does Hample do with the balls caught?  Well, he estimates having given away 1,000. A collector at heart, balls caught by Hample all offer personal memories. Perhaps people over age 35 don't get it; being a ballhawk.  As an example, Conan O'Brien once tagged Hample as the "Worst Man In America".  An appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno offered a more friendly appreciation for what  ballhawking is all about.

There are some tricks that Hample employees ,when a ball is laying on a warning track, that involves a cup and string.  Along with the thousands of balls collected, Hample has 91 different baseball hats, and 10 MLB game-used bats.  His success  includes wearing a home team hat during batting practice, or when making his way down to the field level, and calling out to players for a toss.

Hample has ballhawking down to a new science.  Positioning is key, and he knows where to be at the right time - time after time.

Somehow, Hample's ballhawking needs to be considered for a place in Cooperstown.  Perhaps his 10,000th ball caught in MLB stadiums could be displayed.  He's a new kind of fan.  What Hample does, no one is able to match.  Don't believe me? Check Hample out on YouTube.

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley.  He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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