Film digs into ballhawk Hample's gift of grab

A-Rod's 3,000th hit, Trout's 1st HR among 10K+ souvenirs snagged

Film digs into ballhawk Hample's gift of grab

Zack Hample is proud to share some statistics from his colorful and undeniably persistent career as the most prolific collector of baseballs from Major League parks in history.

Total baseballs snagged: 10,018 as of Tuesday, Hample proudly reveals, after recently landing the hallmark 10,000th pearl from Robinson Cano at Camden Yards.

Game home runs: 54. Foul game balls: 183. Game ground-rule doubles: four. Balls secured and lured up to his waiting fingers by his "glove trick," a specially designed ball-grabbing mitt that he dangles from a string: Somewhere around 800.

And one life that he enjoys living more and more while going stadium to stadium and picking up friends, unforgettable moments and, yes, baseballs by the bushel.

Hample, who lives in New York City, is a little more than a week shy of his 40th birthday and has been a proud member of the ballhawking community since he was a teenager. He's written three books (one a best-seller), he's made the round of network late-night TV, and he's hit the headlines by snagging historic homers, including Alex Rodriguez's 3,000th hit and the last Mets homer in Shea Stadium (Carlos Beltran, if you're scoring at home).

And no matter how famous he gets with players who recognize him or social media followers who track his every move through the ballpark aisles, Hample still can't outrun the same question people want to ask of him.

Why?

The answer, he explains in a digital short film from Prospect Productions and MLB.com, a 13-minute piece presented by New Era entitled "Zack Hample vs. The World," which can be watched in its entirety above, is very simple:

"I love baseball, I love the feeling of beating the odds, and I love feeling like I am connected to the players and the game," Hample says.

"A ball that I snag from a game is part of that game, too. It's one tick on the pitch count of the pitcher. It's an out or a homer, it's a hit, it's an RBI, and it all has a ripple effect of what that ball represents."

As Hample knows, earning that metaphysical perspective is no easy endeavor.

Over the years, Hample's love for baseball -- and baseballs -- has made him better at his trade. He arrives early, ensuring he's one of the first fans to run and look for "Easter Eggs," the balls that often just sit in the empty stands after being hit there in early BP.

Hample owns a cap and shirt for every club, a strategy that wins in-the-moment toss-ups from partisan-glancing players. And he does his research.

Hample prepares a sheet with the rosters of both teams to position himself for right-handed and left-handed hitters. If he feels that he won't get enough opportunities for baseballs in one seating section, he might very well buy two tickets to the same game.

His traveling show has its costs, but Hample has profited from book royalties, several businesses he's started over the years, sponsorship opportunities and work for his family's bookstore business in New York City.

Hample has personal rules. One is that he'll give a large portion of the balls to kids. Hample won't bump people or knock anyone over. He's keen to avoid blocking any fan's view of the action.

Some more stats while we're at it: For most of his unique journey, Hample has kept meticulous records of the specific date, time of day, stadium and method of snag: be it pregame or postgame, via toss-up, hit or throw, name of the player, caught on the fly or just flat-out picked up off the ground, etc.

Times have changed, and Hample has gotten more precise in his accounting over the past 8,000-plus balls, but he certainly remembers the big ones. And boy, have there been some big ones.

The famous A-Rod homer for No. 3,000 ended up with a press conference and Hample giving Rodriguez the ball while the Yankees donated $150,000 to Pitch In For Baseball, a charity with which Hample has partnered that helps underprivileged children around the world get the equipment to play the game.

Hample also caught the first career home run by all-everything Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 724th homer by Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter's 3,262nd career hit, game-used balls from the 2015 World Series and 1999 National League Championship Series and three grand slams.

Hample has snagged balls in Japan, in Puerto Rico, and in Australia, where the Dodgers and D-backs opened the 2014 season at the Sydney Cricket Ground and he landed 18 in two days.

Hample has suffered for his art, too. He's broken a rib falling on an armrest, sprained an ankle sprinting from one corner of a stadium to the other, and sustained two black eyes from errant ricochets.

"The worst part is people assuming that I missed it and it hit me," he says. "No! I know how to catch."

And now Hample has caught a milestone. He's got 10 large in the books, a big round number that some might say encompasses a career. Even Hample says he's thought about winding down this wild chase. But alas, there are still mountains to climb.

"I've never gotten a postseason home run ball," Hample says. "A World Series homer would be amazing. Really, any postseason homer would be great."

So on he goes, driving those rental cars, narrating his quests for the media masses, strapping on his backpack and outfit for the day, and soaking up the rush in the crowd once again.

"It's tough, but there's nothing like the adrenaline," Hample says. "It's an awesome feeling to catch a ball at a game, to be part of the game.

"And if it were easy, it wouldn't be as fun."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.