Fan's glovework nets three fouls in O's game
Souvenir baseballs increase his extensive collection
BALTIMORE -- Seattle third baseman Chone Figgins fouls a ball off behind the first-base line in the top of the first inning and fan Zack Hample is there to make the grab.
On the next pitch, a foul ball to the same spot results in another addition to Hample's collection.
To the casual fan, the man in an Orioles cap and white shirt got lucky and will go home with some souvenirs.
But the back-to-back grabs during Thursday night's game between the Mariners and Orioles would be Hample's sixth and seventh that day, to be followed by an eighth ball in the fifth inning. In total, the five balls during batting practice and three foul balls at Camden Yards would bring his lifetime total to 4,921 baseballs, according to Hample.
"Every ball I catch makes me happy, for whatever reason," Hample said. "This just does it for me."
A native and current resident of New York City, Hample -- author of an MLBlog called "The Baseball Collector" -- said he has been watching baseball since the age of four. Now 33, the baseball author and collector got his first and second Major League baseballs in 1990, when Mets players tossed them to him during batting practice at Shea Stadium.
Hample said his late father described those first baseballs as, "a baby shark tasting blood for the first time."
Since then, Hample has traveled the country, putting himself in the best position to catch foul balls and home runs. He runs to certain points in a ballpark depending on if the batter hits left or right-handed.
Miller Park is Hample's favorite to snag baseballs in, as he has caught three in three games there. However, Camden Yards remains one of his most frequent destinations.
"I love this ballpark so much, I try to come down for a series or two every month," Hample said.
Hample's ball-hawking abilities don't just benefit himself, though. He said that although he will never give away a game-used baseball, he frequently will give balls from batting practice to kids he sees with gloves that weren't able to catch one.
He also has gotten donors to pledge money to the Little League International charity "Pitch In For Baseball" for every ball he catches. According to Hample, he has raised over $14,000 for the organization, which donates baseball and softball equipment to youth leagues.
To Hample, who caught Barry Bonds' 724th career home run and tied his personal high on Thursday night with three foul balls, the game of baseball is not defined by winning and losing.
"I don't consider myself a fan of any one team, I just consider myself a fan of the sport," Hample said. "I just love baseball more than words can describe."
Avi Zaleon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.