The first time Zack Hample went to a Major League Baseball game, as a 6-year-old at Yankee Stadium, he didn’t catch a baseball. That trend continued through most of his childhood, when he and his dad would often arrive late and leave early, and he has spent most of his adult life making up for lost time.
Hample has now snagged more than 6,500 baseballs in 50 different stadiums, some of which are no longer in existence. He gets most of them during pregame warmups when players will toss them into the stands when they’re done with them, but this season, Bigs Sunflower Seeds has given him a new challenge.
Baseball’s biggest ball-hawker is spending the summer traveling to each major league stadium with the goal of getting a game-used ball in each of them. He arrived in San Francisco this week to spend two days — starting Tuesday — at AT&T Park in an effort to make it the sixth park off his list.
For each park in which he completes his goal, Bigs will donate $500 to Pitch for Baseball, a nonprofit that delivers new and used baseball equipment to underserved communities. Hample has been collecting balls for more than 20 years, but the partnership with the sunflower seed company gave him a new reason to go out and do what he loves.
“They came up with the 30 stadium challenge, which is kind of insane in a way that I love,” he said. “They came up with the three stadium challenge, which as far as I know nobody has ever done.”
The latter goal involves getting a ball at three ballparks in one day. He marked a day on the calendar in August when he can get to an early game at the Mets’ Citi Field in New York, skip over to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park for an afternoon tilt, then to Camden Yards in Baltimore for a nightcap.
If that wasn’t enough, he loves catching baseballs so much that he’s going to try to catch one dropped from a helicopter 1,000 feet in the air later this year.
As his quest takes him around the country, he said his visits to the Bay Area makes him wish he lived closer to one of the big league parks here.
Just not the one you think.
“It’s so crowded and there’s such a competitive culture of ball hawking here that for me it’s kind of stressful,” he said of the home of the Giants. “It’s fun to be in a packed stadium and everyone’s going crazy for the team. That’s a lot of fun just as a baseball fan, but for what I do, AT&T’s a tough place.”
No, it’s O.co Coliseum that is heaven for a ball hawk. Hample named the home of the A’s as one of the two best parks in the league to catch foul balls, along with Miller Park in Milwaukee.
He sits behind home plate in an area where there is plenty of room to run and the view is partially obstructed by railings, discouraging other fans from getting in his way. He said he once snagged four foul balls over a 22-inning span during a series there last year.
Hample will not visit Oakland this time around, however, as he’s off to Seattle after today’s Giants game.