On the eve of the World Series, check out a YouTube documentary about the world’s greatest ballhawk
We’ve seen some great baseball this postseason. However, there’s another game being played that in all likelihood won’t be captured by the cameras. That’s because it’s in the stands. A relatively small but enthusiastic group of mostly youngish males go to baseball games to take in the game and snag baseballs, not necessarily in that order. They’re ballhawks–and Zack Hample is decidedly the best one ever.
Over three-plus decades of attending games, Zack has snagged 12,051 balls – and counting. He’s best known for grabbing A-Rod’s 3,000th hit in 2015, a home run at Yankee Stadium. Subsequently, Zack held on to the historic ball for two weeks before returning it to A-Rod in exchange for the Yankees donating $150,000 to Pitch in for Baseball, an organization that helps the underprivileged enjoy the game.
Jeff Siegel’s documentary, Zack Hample vs. The World, now available for free screening on YouTube, covers this episode, and the rest of Zack’s story, well, at least most of it. The movie is a character study with lots of commentary from its unique subject, his mother, Naomi, MLB all-star Heath Bell and a few media types (Tyler Kepner, Matt Vasgersian, among others), who are overwhelmingly positive towards Zack. With the exception of the overwhelmingly negative Laurence “Marlins Man” Leavey, we don’t hear much from Zack’s detractors, who are mostly anonymous Twitter haters. Zack was and remains an easy target. Way back, Zack was persona non grata at Shea Stadium for snagging too many balls, and there once was a petition to ban Zack from Major League ballparks. The vitriol reached a scary zenith during the A-Rod, 3,000th ball incident.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, Zack vs. The World’s delivers insight on what drives a man to devote his life to snagging and collecting baseballs.
Well, it didn’t start pretty. Zack was picked on as a kid. Specifically, kids taunted him that his father, author-illustrator Stu Hample was older. Stu Hample, who collaborated on a comic strip with Woody Allen for eight years, was 51 when Zack was born. Zack’s mother owns and operates the legendary NYC-based Argosy Book Store, which sells vintage books. In short, collecting artifacts is in Zack’s blood.
Quickly, the ballpark became Zack’s sanctuary. At first hawking was a habit, but it quickly morphed into a hobby and then an obsession and an art form. From the start, Zack religiously chronicled his hawking adventures. Now, he vlogs. In short, every baseball collected has a story. Who tossed it to him? Zack knows how to ask for a baseball in several different languages. Who hit it, and was it a milestone ball? Zack caught Mike Trout’s first Major League dinger in Baltimore, which he returned to Trout immediately. Ironically, Zack also caught the last Mets home run at Shea Stadium, Carlos Beltran’s 263rd.
Along the way, Zack followed in his Dad’s footsteps and penned three books, yes, all about baseball. He published his latest, The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath The Stitches, in 2011. But being an author wasn’t Zack’s first career choice. More than anything, Zack dreamt of being a professional baseball player. Unfortunately, by his own admission, he just wasn’t good enough. So instead, he turned his hawking exploits into a career, religiously attending games all over the country and creating video stories. By the way, being a prolific ballhawk does take ample athleticism. It’s not easy navigating seats and stairs, as well as other fans while trying to catch a ball.
Now in his 40s, Zack shows no sign of retiring from hawking. He says that he’d like to be married and to raise a family, but he just hasn’t made the right connection. Snagging balls is a much easier catch.