In our first installment of Ask A Collector, we catch up with Zack Hample, the best-selling author of Watching Baseball Smarter and probably best known as the guy who has been featured on TV, radio, and print for catching over 8,000 baseballs at 51 different major league stadiums since 1990. As one could probably guess, Zack is a diehard baseball collector and this week he shares his experiences as a sports collector with us.
Collectable: What does collecting baseballs mean to you?
Zack: It gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I use my athleticism to beat the odds, and in a way, catching baseballs kinda sorta almost makes me feel like I’m part of the game.
Collectable: What initially sparked your interest in collecting?
Zack: Being really young, watching baseball on TV, seeing foul balls land in the crowd, and noticing fans going absolutely crazy when they caught one. I realize that lots of little kids watch baseball and don’t end up obsessed, but for some reason it left quite an impression on me. I went to my first game when I was six, but didn’t snag my first ball until I was twelve. That was a batting practice ball, but I was so pumped that my father always described that moment as “a baby shark tasting blood for the first time.”
Collectable: What is your favorite ball in your collection and why?
Zack: My favorite ball by far is the last home run that the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium, hit by Carlos Beltran on September 28, 2008. Unfortunately it wasn’t the last homer there because the stupid Marlins went yard twice in the late innings, but it was still an exhilarating moment for me. I no longer have a favorite team, but I loved the Mets as a kid, and Shea was like my second home — and amazingly, this was the only home run that I ever caught there during a game. And by the way, my favorite ball NOT in my collection is Mike Trout’s first career homer. I caught that in Baltimore on July 24, 2011, and I gave it back to him after the game.
Collectable: Are there any balls you didn’t catch that you wish you had another chance on?
Zack: Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, which was a home run to left-center field at Yankee Stadium. I was very close to that spot for his first at-bat, but then moved when the people showed up for their seats. The security guard out there was surprisingly cool and told me later that he would’ve let me stay and stand at the back. If I had done that and jumped for the ball, my glove would’ve been within two feet of it. If I had stayed out there and thought fast enough to climb up on the back of the last row of seats, I would have caught the ball, guaranteed. That will haunt me forever.
Collectable: Do you have a wishlist of balls you would like to have? If so, what are the top three?
Zack: It’s not an official list, but I would love to catch a player’s 500th career home run or 3,000th hit or some sort of huge milestone ball. I also really want to catch a home run during a World Series game, and I think it’d be pretty sweet to catch a walk-off homer someday.
Collectable: Do you collect anything else beyond baseballs?
Zack: I collect business cards, many of which I have used to decorate my half-bathroom, and old pennies that I happen to receive in my change, but that’s about it. I have a 264-pound rubber band ball, but I don’t think of myself as a “rubber band collector,” as some people have suggested. I own hundreds of VHS tapes, and I have a large pillow pile with 137 pillows, but I don’t really think of those as collections because I actually use them. Yes, I still watch most of my movies with a VCR. Leave me alone. When I was a kid, I collected all kinds of stuff including baseball cards and autographs and some random things like tiny pencils and a whole bunch of other oddball objects that I don’t even remember.