9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?

When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield . . .


. . . I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.

The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for the Wild Card with
the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers won, or if they both lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea to determine who’d be moving on to the post-season.

I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:

final_day2_marquee.jpgIt was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful fans:


I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through. At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned about my seat location.

I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball. Even a training ball. Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.


Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.

I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing . . . and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a chance to catch it.

Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.

“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)

“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.

So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket . . .


. . . and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it was raining. Look how wet the railings were at the front of the bleachers:


Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after. The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:


These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.

The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:


Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me the following ball:


I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more) of the Nationals’ baseballs.

The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to me off the warning track in left-center.

I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife. I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:


I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:


I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets were entering the stadium.

I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone . . .


. . . so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:


This was the view slightly to the left:


The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck . . .


. . . and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:


I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:


The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all being former Mets) but it was still cool:


These guys were intense:


This dude nailed it:


This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:


This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:


This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in the background:


Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:


Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:


Then I ran into Elvis . . .


. . . and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.


If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be, but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.

Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day, and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant scoreboard . . .


. . . and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:


I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0” to “1” so when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.

This was my view straight ahead . . .


. . . and this was the view to my right:


I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.

Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:


The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker. Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were ahead, 2-0.

In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner, and Beltran crushed it in my direction.

It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20 feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept coming . . . coming . . . coming . . . and I couldn’t believe I was even going to be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter disbelief before I really started celebrating:


Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:


Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:


Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me. It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing my shaved head:


The celebration just wouldn’t end:


Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives . . .


. . . followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:


And some more high-fives. Check it out . . . two at once:


It was THE . . . CRAZIEST . . . HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.

(Click here to watch the highlight on SNY.)

As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.

“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.

They were all like . . . huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.

One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank god) and had me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did . . . and I kept getting mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like, “C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”

He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90 percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the ball as he could and his friend took a pic.

I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers. The authenticator, pictured below . . .


. . . emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur. This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was racing like you wouldn’t believe.

He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…


. . . and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:


Here’s a look at the sticker:


Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:


Here’s the commemorative logo:


Here’s the whole thing:


People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc. Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get out of the way if one comes.”

“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10 steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”

But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.

A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.

“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.

“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”

I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)

Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers (who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.

Wow, 12 more outs to go . . .

In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers. Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d just traveled an additional 10 feet.

“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”

Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then BOOM!!! Another home run . . . again into the bleachers but too far over toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.

“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.

“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”

I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.

Ayala retired the next three batters.

The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth or their season was done.

The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning: David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.

Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches, but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.

I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick (which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level. Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full . . .


. . . and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is business.

Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one 380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was history.

The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”

It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to get stuff from them, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout (he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap as everyone headed back in.

Not bad.

I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif (aka “goislanders4” if you read the comments on this blog) and changed out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but still . . . Marlins = yuck:


Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap . . .


. . . and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:


THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.

Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:


The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto the field one last time . . .


. . . but it was bittersweet. Everyone in the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite bathroom–but even he knew it was time.

I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot . . .


. . . and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:


“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”

When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:

1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you because they just saw you at the Mets game . . . dude, you are a f*ckin’ superstar.”

2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever . . . and you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculous. This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”

3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall, former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair, looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah.”

Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now 12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the front page of Yahoo, and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot . . .


. . . and here’s the story.

This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats . . .

* 6 balls at this game

* 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

* 568 consecutive games with at least one ball

* 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

* 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

* 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)

* 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

* 99 lifetime game balls in New York

* 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

* 3,816 total balls


  1. graysalomi@yahoo.com

    You should get that ball appraised, just for kicks and giggles. It’d be fun to see how much it could be worth if you ever wanted to sell it.

  2. baseballtourist

    Nice work Zack (minus the puke shot) ! I emailed Neil at newsday.com yesterday and sent him the link to the mlb.com loop of the homer.He didn’t know that you had caught it, went to your blog and then said he was going to call you. You got to show up at some playoff games…don’t end the 2008 snagging season so early. chris

  3. Cole

    Wow, Zack, truly remarkable. Just an update from the barren wasteland that is Arizona. I have befriended many of the ushers and security guards because as you know, the dbacks dont draw a very good crowd, and at batting practice, there are around 20 people in left or right field. After looking at the glove trick, in which I gave you complete acknowledgment, they found it genius and completely allow it. I’m not really a fan of using it on the warning track just in case, but when a ball goes into the bullpen, it is as good as mine :). I would just like to thank you for the inspiration and all the good reads and experiences. I can usually manage to get 5 or 6 balls per game, and have only you to thank! I would like to share one story though, in which my own smarts earned me a ball. Number 59 on the rockies, who I later learned was a bullpen catcher, was getting annoyed by all the little kids yelling for a ball, so he approached them all. He said that he would ask each kid a riddle and if they got that riddle right, he would give them a ball. After many clever riddles on his part, I asked him to ask me one. He looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you a true dbacks fan?” I told him I was and he could ask me anything, which led to my 2 part question. He first asked me where Brandon Webb was from. Pshh easy, Kentucky. This is where the riddle came in. He asked me, “Do the people of Kentucky call their capital city Louisville or Louis-ville. (two different pronunciations) I pretended I was stumped and after a second or two I called out, “Im pretty sure they pronounce it FRANKFURT” All the parents around me were impressed while the kids had no clue what just happened. It was really funny because I challenged him to double or nothing, this time me asking him one. He was a great guy and accepted my challenge. I asked him, “So there is a hole that is 3 feet long and 2 feet deep. How much sand is in it?” He began to do division and multiplication on his hands so I knew I was in business. He cam up with some random answer with pi in it, and I quickly exclaimed, “There is actually NO sand because it is a HOLE” He thought it was very funny and rewarded me with another ball. This was special to me because not only did I get 2 balls, but I also got to interact with a member of an MLB team, which was really cool. We shook hands as the rockies left the field, both with grins from ear to ear. It was my best “get a ball” story.

    Well I apologize for the long post, because I’m sure you are SWAMPED. If you did indeed read it, I hope it made you giggle or something like your blog makes me do. Take it easy, and enjoy the spotlight! :)

  4. connerokeefe8@yahoo.com

    i have seen you on ESPN and i had heard about your blog. I think it is amazing what you do and i think that this REALLY COOOOOOL

  5. boblheader

    ZACK my friend ?
    WOW! I honestly think that was you are able to do is amazing. I was talking to my wife about you and all of the other ballhawks that read this and the other blogs and how every single person that walks into a baseball stadium wants to catch a baseball. In fact, you might say that it is a dream of some people to get their hands on one. WE are the few that are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to not just be “in the right place at the right time” but to KNOW where the baseballs are going to be. That is the only way to explain how you are able to catch three HISTORICAL home runs. Good luck in the playoffs (if you go). Philly and Boston are you best bets, but I’m sure you already know that. =)

    Good luck again.

    Phill in Utah.

  6. "D" The Rockpile Ranter

    What a way to end a season. You have proved that there really is a bit of “science” to snagging baseballs and you sir are the Professor. Enjoy this Zack you have earned every second of it..Good Luck to you !…Don…RPR

  7. acsport79@yahoo.com

    Nice. What are you going to do with the ball? Label it? Put it in a case and bow down to it?

  8. janiemets@verizon.net

    I enjoyed your story and loved the photos that really illustrated the day at Shea, but I disagree with your account of the Marlins after the game. They weren’t just shaking hands and congratulating each other…they were jumping up and down on each other (like Jerry Koosman with Jerry Grote after the final out of the 1969 World Series), hugging each other, high-fiving each other and generally celebrating as if they had just clinched their division. No one booed or even noticed at first until their obviously intentional show went on for quite a few minutes. I don’t believe in ever booing your own team or the opposing team, but the Marlins’ behavior was obnoxious and nasty and it even interfered with the grounds crew trying to set up the ceremony.

    I don’t mean to detract from your otherwise great story and photos, but that was the worst sportsmanship I’ve ever seen.

  9. gailquack@aol.com

    Wow…I was just getting over the last game and this brought it all back. Another congrats on the Beltran homer! It was the highlight of an otherwise dismal day. Wished I could’ve been more excited that day…you know how it was. You truly are amazing! Thanks for sharing the day with us.

  10. snagfan


    WOW, WOW, WOW is all I can say. You have had an awesome year so far. All the haters who responded to the Yahoo article can go jump in the pile of Shea Stadium puke in your pic.
    Stats for my 1st season using the “Zack Hample Snagging Process”:
    209 Balls total
    5 Gamers
    39, 536 Crowd Avg
    60 Games Attended (BP at 47 games)
    4.47 Balls Per Game Avg
    (Snagged tons of autos along w, batting gloves and other misc dugout items)

    And I had a TON of FUN, thanks to you Zack,

    Looking forward to 2009,

    Mike in Detroit

  11. dianagramr

    Hey Zack!

    I caught the highlights of the game on SportsCenter that night, and when they showed Beltran’s homer, I said “holy c**p, that’s Zack again!”

    You are awesome!

  12. dianagram

    Hey Zack!

    I caught the highlights of the game on SportsCenter that night, and when they showed Beltran’s homer, I said “holy c**p, that’s Zack again!”

    You are awesome!

  13. baseball4life

    Zack,your my hero!Dude,i’m 45 and have yet to grab a ball at an MLB game.Years ago the town I live Aberdeen MD,had a team in the Atlantic League called the Arsenal.I got a ball hit by Pete Ingcavalia once,my kids have lost that ball.I also have a ball autographed by the 2000 Nashua Pride managed by Butch Hobson.I met his pitching coach in the parking lot after the game.He had the hood up on his car,I asked if he needed help.He said his headlight was out.I told him I was the manager at the Western Auto in town,to stop by in the morning and I’d get him a headlight.He came in,I gave it to him.He said how much,I told him nothing,just see if he could get Butch Hobson to autograph a baseball card for me.He came back 2 days later with the card and the ball.I thought that was pretty cool.My youngest son got a ball from the 3rd base coach of the New Jersey Cardinals of the New York-Penn League.He was 2 at the time,and promptly threw it back(the coach gave it back).My wife caught a foul ball when the Ironbirds played the Staten Island Yankees from the same league.My oldest son got a autographed ball from Billy Ripken at the Cal Ripken Sr college league all-star game in 07.Thats about the extent of our ball collection.Sorry for the lengthy comment.Reading your blog just brought back great memories.Thanks for reading.

  14. dhayes01@swbell.net


    This is an amazing account of your success. I registered with an MLB account just to be able to comment on your article. I love the pics, the “inside-your-head” monologue, and, most of all, the energy and passion that you bring to something that obviously thrills you.

    I’m sure that some people will call you a cut-throat or a privateer for some of the greater subtleties of your strategy (such as your wardrobe changes), but you’re living proof that an effort of will is greater than what 99.99% of the masses are willing to put forth.

    Well done, young man. Nice catches, all around. I’ll be interested in seeing what you do next.

  15. thesalty

    What a way to top off an incredible season Zack! This, along with the Yankee home runs and going over the 400 and 500 ball mark for the first time, is really something. Sorry about the Mets, but I hope you enjoy yourself in the off-season. Stay cool until next year, when you’ll have two new ballparks to conquer.


  16. thet206kid

    I couldnt believe you caught that when i saw it,, it is still the last homer by a mets player at shea. anyway,, the mets crushed me and i cant wait til next year. i will be at opening day at the new park. i am sure you will be there too zack.

  17. maor215

    WOW that must be a pretty great feeling to get the VERY last Mets baseball hit EVER at Shea Stadium.
    Good Luck in the future!

  18. zackhample

    I finally have some free time! So I’m going to answer comments! Here we go…

    I have a radio interview coming up on Friday (at 8:20am on WZLX in Boston) and there’s going to be a sports memorabilia dealer on with me, and we’re going to discuss the value of the ball.

    Come on, you KNOW you liked the puke. Anyway, thanks for contacting Neil. He and I emailed back and forth a few times today.

    Thanks so much.

    I’m blushing.

    Wow. I read the whole comment. That’s fantastic. I once stumped a bullpen coach (on the Astros, I think) on a baseball trivia question, and he rewarded me with a ball. Those special interactions, in a way, are just as cool as catching a home run ball (though maybe not as cool as the Beltran ball). Anyway, I’m glad I helped inspire your snagging.


    I appreciate what you said (about putting in an effort), and I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

    Thanks. I have a feeling I’ll get to at least a few games this month…

    I’m honored to be called a “professor.” Heh.

    I don’t need to label it because it has a unique authentication sticker. But I wouldn’t have labeled it anyway. The ball is too special to be written on. I probably SHOULD be bowing down to it. :-)

    Seriously? I didn’t even realize. Maybe I was just so focused on my own personal end-game strategy that I had no idea what was taking place on the field. In that case…screw the Marlins. Thanks for letting me know.

    Thanks for sharing it with ME. After such a meltdown, it’s nice to be able to complain to someone(s) who really knows me.

    Nice stats, and thanks for all your support.

    Thanks, and for future reference, you’re allowed to say “crap” on this blog.

    No need to apologize. Those are all great stories. Thanks for sharing. (I wish I had even 1,000th the knowledge about cars as I do about baseball.)

    Thank you SO much for your thoughtful response. It always feels great, after I’ve spent so much time writing an account of my time at a game, to hear from people who enjoyed it. (I’ve never been called a “privateer,” by the way, but I’ve been called far worse.)

    Thanks. I’m nervous and excited about the new stadiums. I have no idea what to expect.

    I couldn’t believe it either. I still can’t believe it, really.

    It’s an unbelievable feeling. I feel like I’m living a dream.

  19. ceetar

    Nice. That sticker looks like the same ones that are on every single seat at Shea (were on every..) which you might not have noticed since you don’t sit much.

    any mlb.tv customer can download old games, shouldn’t be too hard to find one download for you.

    Congrats on the ball..I was there too, and I actually wondered if you were out there when he hit it. (Actually, I took pictures of you dashing back and forth in the picnic area from the Upper Deck a couple of months ago.)

    The ceremony was actually kinda touching, particularly the part you left for. (Which as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, was Seaver throwing a pitch to Piazza and them slowly walking across the field, out the center field gate and closing it behind them.)

  20. clinton_seymour@eku.edu

    zack, ive posted a few times, i saw you in pittsburgh in august. just wanted to congratulate you for closing out shea on top. any time i see a home run on television, no matter what stadium, i always pause to see if you caught it. i have to admit, now that the season is over i am going to miss reading your daily blog. i do have one questions for you. im flying up to chicago tomorrow for the cubs and dodgers game and i checked to your blog to see if you had any advice. i looked through 2003 or so and couldnt find any record of you going to wrigley. just wondering if you have ever been there and you had any advice. do you need a bleacher seat, where the umps exit the field, etc. if i cant get in tomorrow night ill certainly be waiting for a manny blast out on waveland avenue. look forward to hearing back from you!
    – clint

  21. gjk2212

    my final day recap..

    the absolute only time my mom could get me to the stadium was either 7 am or noon. clearly i chose 7 am, and i wandered EVERYWHERE and took pictures of everything in sight. anyway, i got in the gate c line at 9:00 am, 1 hr and 40 mins before opening. there were people there already, too, but i was first on one of the sides. about 930, i see zack, and we talk for a while, and whatever. maybe 1015 or so, zack jokingly says i should run back up the subway ramp and see if theres bp. i have no problem and i run there and back, and they are taking the tarp off. maybe 1035 now, its raining pretty hard, and im figuring theres not gonna be bp. the rent a cops take a year and a half to check my bag twice and let me in. idiots. i run up the ramp and the mets are hitting-in the rain! i give a celebratory yell to zack and run to the picnic area, where i am meanly denied. so i grab the corner spot in left field on the field level, good for at least a ball, and the unthinkable happens. i open my bag, and theres no glove. just gone. i vividly remember putting it in my bag. no glove. ive never ever ever gone to a game without a glove. its unheard of. so now, im thinking im gonna get shutout for the first time in a year and a half. not to mention the crowd is like 4 deep behind me. i ask joe smith, and he says “you got like a hundred, and wheres your glove?” im furious (with myself) and finally, dave racaniello underhands one to nobody in particular and i barehand it as i scrape my thigh on a rail. it was commemorative. at that moment, the mets leave the field. i switch to marlins stuff and get a front spot on their dugout. on the mets side, 2 coaches are flinging balls up left and right. ugh. anyway, bo porter, jim presley, and andy fox turn down my requests even though i had marlins jersey, hat, and knew their names. they were using a whole batch of brand new balls. after hitting for 20 mins, they leave the field, and cody ross throws me a pristine (but waterlogged) ball, and that was my last ball at shea. i watched the former players come in, got rudely yelled at by the picnic area usher when i met up with zack and yanks42294, and took 564 pictures. at the marlins dugout, some guy said when you caught the ground rule double “nice catch, hey jim, you see that? by the wise sign..sign that guy up.” and when i was in the upper box seats freaking out when beltran tied the game (and i had seen where you sat and knew you had a somewhat chance for it and finally saw you holding it up walking across the left center field seats) some guy was like “wow, the guy who caught that isnt making it out of there alive” also, in my depressed state, i saw you from above get the hat and glove..

    anyway, i thought the ceremony was great and the game wasnt and i miss shea already.

  22. joshwhiteworldwide@gmail.com

    Dude, you are the poop. Seriously. My friends at work think I am *quirky* because I have 300 baseballs and love to “hawk.” Little do they know about my buddy (and fellow GuilCo alum) who is a REAL ballhawk…the king hawk, in fact. I was not surprised to see you on the tube catching Beltran’s ball…it is only fitting. :-)
    “To the victor go the spoils…” You work harder on this than anyone, and you deserve all the rewards.
    By the way, for the Rockies fan who posted…the bullpen catcher is named Mark Strittmatter, he is the nicest dude ever. I lived in Colorado for seven years and started hawking there…I have a number of balls from him. He responds well to “Stritt,” if anyone ever encounters him…he’s sure to toss you a ball if you’re cool to him.
    Too bad the Dbacks are out, I was looking forward to some playoff hawking…nothing quite like snagging 7 balls at a playoff game, as I did before last year’s NLCS Game One. Oh well. Time for the Arizona Fall League. The season opens on Tuesday, and I will be taking clients to opening day…it’s break week at the rehab center, and the Program Director gets to take the kids out to play! I hope to indoctrinate a few of them into the fine world of ball hawking. Anyway, Zack and his disciples…Keep on Hawkin’ in the Free World!

  23. PSU532@yahoo.com

    Hey Zack, sorry I haven’t been posting in months. Congrats on the home run catches over the past few weeks. I was out in Vegas and I saw you on Sportcenter after you caught the 2 Yankee Stadium home runs. As it figures, I was in a car listening to the final Mets game, or else I would’ve seen you catch the Beltran bomb live on tv.

    Too bad you didn’t end up catching Manny’s 500th at the game that I met you at. That would’ve been priceless!

    I just saw you were mentioned on SI Hot Clicks. Did you see it?


    It basically says “Remember the guy who caught home run balls on back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium? He also caught the last Mets home run at Shea Stadium last Sunday. … ” and it has a link to the Yahoo article….

  24. reyes7j

    just wanted to say a few things
    —First, nice catch and nice luck. I agree with your sentiment that you would never sell a baseball. I’ve also found it cool to think about how much one of my (signed) baseballs would be worth but it would be such a greedy thing to do if I actually sold one. I have a feeling if you were the type that sold off your baseballs, you would have stopped collecting them a long time ago. As a mets fan (although I realize you aren’t really one), I would treasure that ball if I were you since it is the last HR at Shea (which will never be a dump in my eyes). Great catch.
    —–Second, I love reading your blog. I think I discovered it either last year or the year before and it is definitely fun to follow even though I have no actual interest in going for batting practice balls or fouls or caring about commemoratives. You are definitely a bit obsessive over this but you obviously have fun with it and thats what makes it fun to follow your exploits. The player/Zack interactions are always fantastic to read and I think more people besides me have noted how nice/cool Heath Bell must be in real life (I wish we never traded him).
    ——Third, I was reading the comments posted on the yahoo article. I read earlier that you do not bother to read any comments on blogs or articles about yourself since there is alot of negativity. I just wanted to say that the comments made me pause and think a little. The negativity (about half or more of all the comments- the other half was just amazed at what you accomplished) was a little bewildering because they made no sense and had so much jealousy and hatred in their words. “get a girlfriend”- check, “get a job”- probably check, “how about you give some balls to kids!?”- check, and “this guys probably faking it, where’s the proof that he really caught these?”- jesus christ just look at YES/SNY footage……I’m sure you’ve gotten past this a long time ago and don’t care about this subject but I wanted to write that this one baseball fan here sees nothing wrong/selfish with what you do and thinks that if anything, you’ll promote baseball culture with your passion and perhaps will inspire other kids to have their own ball-finding fun at a stadium. There are too many haters in this world.

  25. ceetar

    Btw, you blamed T-Mobile, but I think we just overloaded the airwaves with everyone checking the Brewers score with their cells, too impatient to wait for the scoreboard (which I hope is updated faster in Citi). I know Verizon also failed with service stuff a couple of times too.

  26. legkick26

    Hey Zack,
    Congrats on a good snagging season and the Beltran catch.
    I was at the Cubs vs. Brewers game on Sunday and assumed you were at Shea (and the knew you were when I saw the Beltran highlight once I got home). Very cool game to watch as CC amazed everyone again on three days rest and put the Brewers into the W column.
    They put the Mets game on the jumbotron after the Brewers finished up and I took this break in the action to move from my seat in the upper deck to down at the Brewers dugout. I had to sneak past the “Senior Citizen” security they have at Miller Park, so it wasnt hard to get to the dugout.
    The final out came and the place went nuts.
    I’m not even a Brewer fan (I like the Yanks —> wiscyankee442 was my old name on here, but it switched for some reason…anyway..) and it was awesome to experience something like clinching for the 1st time in 26 years.
    The Brewers celebrated and shot champagne all over me and the rest of the crowd. I can now say that I have tasted Playoff Champagne :D
    Here are my videos of the last out and celebration:
    Once again, congrats on a great year, and hopefully I’ll see ya at the New Yankee Stadium or Miller Park.

  27. jerseyboy

    You inspire me. I have been working on learning your practices. I did come to that game with a Marlins hat and jersey, but was honestly too embarassed to put it on. The one sad thing to me is that it’s seems as if you are no longer truly a Mets fan, or even a baseball fan, just a man on a mission. I am not trying to insult or take anything away from you, but it just seems hard to care about the game when you are so focused on getting balls. Please, tell me I’m wrong. Also, I hate friggin Shea, as I’ve always found it impossible to get into field level w/o a ticket. I know a secret or two of my own, since I worked there, but if those don’t work, I have no idea what else to try. And how do you get out to SO many games; what do you do? I’m proud of tghe 40 games I attended this past year and you nearly doubled that.

    Back to my original point though, you honestly do inspire me, and I’ve been telling everyone that would listen about you, and next year, I plan to go all out in every attempt to get baseballs.


  28. aefeq


    Was watching the game on TV and could not believe my eyes that it was you!. Congrats!. What do you do for and encore?

    My season ended great with 2 games in Arlington. It was unbelievable to walk into the stadium and have NOBODY in left field for a good 7 to 10 minutes. In my opinion, Rangers Ballpark is the best snagging. Glove trick heaven too! 8 Balls in 2 games that I kept and I gave away 3. All with minimal effort!

    Oh well, kinda sad that my season is over. I can live vicariously through you.

    Great seeing outside of YS and good luck in the playoffs!

    Brendan (Helemt Guy)

  29. hockeyguy1011@aol.com

    Hey Zack, you reall are THE MAN! Pretty sick stuff you’ve been doing….Between these last two games at Yankee and Shea, did you ever try and grab something to the stadium to take back with you? I remember at Yankee Josh and I saw some great signs that we would’ve loved to have brought back to Florida with us lol. Are you going to any games in Philly?? I’m rooting for a Phils-Rays World Series because I’ll be there in a heartbeat. Anyway, I don’t have much more to say than what you are doing is unreal, and I hope you keep it up into next year! P.S. Thanks for NOT taking my upper deck ticket for that Yankees game and staying in the bleachers haha.

  30. zackhample

    I did notice those stickers in the bleachers, but wow, I had no idea about Seaver and Piazza walking off together. That IS touching…and kinda sad. My cell phone hardly ever worked in the picnic area. It wasn’t just the last day. (I’m waiting for my iPhone endorsement…)

    The last time I was at Wrigley was more than a decade ago, so I don’t remember too many details. I think you need a bleacher ticket to get into the bleachers. No idea about the umps. If it were me, and I had a regular ticket, I’d just play the foul line for thrown balls from the visiting team during BP.

    Nice recap. You should have your own blog. I still can’t believe you forgot your glove.

    Thanks, duuuuuude. “Quirky” might in fact be the right word for 300 balls. But what do you call someone who’s got 3,000? I don’t know.

    Don’t worry about not commenting. It’s all good. Thanks for that SI link. I hadn’t seen that.

    1) Thanks. If it ever came down to a situation where I’d either have to sell my baseballs or sleep out on the street, I’d probably sell the balls. Fortunately, I haven’t (yet) had to deal with that.
    2) I appreciate it, and I’m glad YOU appreciate the interactions. Sometimes, when I’m at games, stuff happens so fast that it’s hard to remember every little detail, but I do my best to take notes immediately after the good exchanges.
    3) Thanks again. Really really…thanks. There ARE a lot of haters, and I just try not to take it personally.

    I can only imagine how excited the people in Milwaukee must’ve been after seeing their team reach the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century. Now if they could only kick the Phillies’ heinies. Very cool about the champagne.

    You’re wrong. :-)
    I’m glad to hear that I’ve inspired you, but as for your suggestion about my misguided passion for baseball, I can only say that I watch games ALL the time on TV (when I obviously have no chance to snag baseballs) and I read EVERY box score EVERY day throughout the season (often taking 30 to 60 minutes per day to do so) because I care deeply about how every team/player is doing. As for the Mets…I’m not *really* a Mets fan. I grew up rooting for them and still like it when they do well, but I’ve been rooting more for individual players than teams since the 1990s. I hope that clears things up. Also, I think baseball is a glorious/beautiful game, and I bow to its greatness.

    Encore? Umm…how about a week of sleep? Seriously, that’s what I could use right about now. Arlington sounds incredible. I need to get back there.

    I peeled a one-inch piece of (already peeling) paint off the outfield wall at Yankee Stadium, but that was it. All I needed, really, were some balls. And after I caught the Beltran ball, I decided there wasn’t ANYthing else I needed from Shea. Thanks for not making me sit with you in the upper deck.

  31. tommyd2107

    Psh, Brewers kicked the Phillies heineys? I do not think that will happen, but hey you never know in the playoffs. Hamels looked great yesterday. Im leaving for todays game right after i get done commenting on this. That is awesome that you got the Beltran HR ball, how many interview requests have you got in the last couple days? Zack you should try to make it to a playoff game in Philly sometime.

  32. rickymcentire@yahoo.com

    omg you did it again! how do you do it?! don’t worry zack, you’re not losing your touch. otherwise, you wouldn’t have so many homerun balls!

  33. luketheduke42@yahoo.com

    zack, all i can say is that you are truly amazing! when i told my mom about it she was like “thats so unfair!” when my dad was logging on to the internet, he was like “luke, zack is on yahoo”. anyways,cya!-Luke

  34. mikeyp33metsrule

    Hey Zack, it’s Dylan, the kid you met at da Mets- Padres game. And nothing, of course, could stop you or me from goin’ today. Now, if you didn’t catch that home run, I would’ve been as good as you because I caught a career high 5 balls at the last game at Shea, from Ricardo Rincon, Joe Smith, Mark Hendrickson, Renyel Pinto, and my last ball ever at shea came from one of the top 5 best Mets starters. Pedro Martinez.

  35. gss@ctfd.org

    Zack… what a blog! Hey, I was at the game, too, sitting in front of you. I even took your pic and am IN one of your pics in the picnic area. I’m wearing the Wright jersey. If you want your pic, lemme know. Email me at gss@ctfd.org.

  36. mlbmark

    Nice job as always. I was at Shea Goodbye and also NYY’s Final Game. They were both unique in their own way. Way to commemorate it. Funny when other people jump on the Zackwagon. We remember how it started…


  37. jeffmccaffrey@frontiernet.net

    What a great recap of a day… just wish I would have been at the last at Yankee….

    Can remember my trips as kid and catching my first foul ball hit by Griffey SR. at Yankee Stadium, showed it to my son (3 yr. old) during the last game on tv… of course he wanted it as he has his own ball collection started (he has a streak of 9 games at AAA Rochester with a ball).

    Does anyone know or want to sell a ball from Yankee Stadium this year to me for my son’s collection? I am sure it would be something that he could show his kids. Contact me!


    Keep up the good work Zack!!

  38. zackhample

    Well, I gotta hand it to your Phillies. They really proved themselves as the better team in the NLDS. Let’s see what the next round holds for them. I’ve gotten many radio interview requests…plus a few big things for TV. Very exciting!

    Thanks. You have successfully made me fell better about myself.

    Thanks. I love hearing stuff like that.

    What’s up! Congrats on getting FIVE balls at the last game at Shea. Wow. Very impressive.

    I emailed you. I would love those pics. Thanks.

    Yes, we certainly do…way up on the 8th floor of the Chelsea Market. :-)


    Thank you, I’m sure gonna try…and I hope you find one of those balls.

  39. zackhample

    I’ve never been to a game at Rochester, but hopefully I’ll make it up there someday.

  40. Taylor

    I love your story and that was an amazing catch. Is that your favorite ball ever caught? I am Taylor and my favorite baseball team is the Angels. My least favorite is the Yankees. I saw you caught Mike Trout’s first home run ever. Congrats on all of the other balls and this one. Good luck this year in 2015 hoping you can get 3,000 this year.

  41. Zack Hample

    Thanks so much! And yeah, this remains my favorite ball that I’ve ever caught — way beyond Trout’s first. The 2015 season is shaping up pretty well for me so far . . .

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