This was my 14th stadium of my BIGS Baseball Adventure, and once again, the media was all over it. Check out the following photo of my 1st ball of the day (which was thrown by Alexi Casilla), and you’ll see what I mean:
Did you notice the photographer in the background? He was there to get shots of me for a Sports On Earth article. (Sports on Earth is a newish website that launched last year; it’s affiliated with USA Today and MLB Advanced Media, so this was actually a pretty big deal.)
Meanwhile, there were three important people in the seats behind me:
In the photo above, the guy on the left is a Camden Yards regular and very successful ballhawk named Tim Anderson. The guy sitting in the middle is a reporter from Sports On Earth named Mike Tanier, and the guy on the right is Neal Stewart from BIGS Sunflower Seeds.
The first half-hour of BP was painfully slow — so slow, in fact, that I still had just one ball when the Royals took the field.
My 2nd ball of the day was the result of an errant throw from Aaron Crow to Greg Holland. The ball skipped past Holland and somehow stayed at the base of the wall in foul territory. It must have gotten caught in the tiny space below the padding, thereby allowing me to reach over and glove it. Holland didn’t have an extra ball, so I tossed him the one that I’d just grabbed. He said, “Thanks,” and continued playing catch with it. That’s when I took the following photo:
According to my own ballhawking rules, I could’ve counted the ball at that point. I mean, I always count balls that I snag and give to kids, so the fact that I gave this one to a major league pitcher shouldn’t have made a difference. That said, I stuck around and waited until they finished, and then Crow threw it (back) to me.
Do you remember when I missed a chunk of BP on 5/7/13 at Progressive Field for an MLB Network interview? Well, unfortunately, the same thing happened here at Camden Yards. This time I was scheduled for a 5:30pm interview on WBAL-TV Channel 11. Why do it then instead of after BP? Because the segment was going to air on the 6pm news, so I had no choice.
In a strange twist of fate, this interview actually helped me snag a ball (although I probably ended up missing out on several others). While I was walking through the seats along the left field foul line (to get to the interview location on the 1st base side), a left-handed batter on the Royals sliced a foul ball that rolled onto the warning track. I ran down to the front row and leaned over and grabbed it.
This was the painful view as I headed through the seats behind home plate:
Whether or not I’m getting to be on TV, I really really REALLY HATE MISSING BATTING PRACTICE. I don’t care if it’s the MLB Network or a spot on the local news — it drives me absolutely crazy.
Before this particular interview got started, I photographed the reporter and camerawoman:
His name is Dan. Her name is Bridget. They were cool, and he mainly asked me about the BIGS Baseball Adventure and my charity stuff, so I guess it *was* worth missing out on a few extra baseballs. (But it still drove me crazy.)
When the interview got started, the Sports On Earth photographer (whose name is Evan Habeeb) was there to document it:
When the interview ended, several lefties were hitting, so I headed to the standing-room area (aka “The Flag Court”) in right field. Things were so crazy out there that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos, so I’ll describe what happened . . .
1) I caught a home run on the fly at the edge of the Flag Court, leaning out over the side railing.
2) I snagged another home run ball that flew completely over the Flag Court, landed on Eutaw Street, and bounced up onto a slanted platform 10 feet high. There was one other guy who was waiting for the ball to roll off and drop down. He didn’t have a glove, so he tried to box me out, and by the way, he looked like he belonged in a motorcycle gang. After several tense seconds, the ball rolled off. He scampered to get underneath it. I jumped and caught it above his hands.
3) I gave a baseball to a little girl. The story behind it is that I’d been interviewed at around 4pm on WBAL-Radio 1090AM and had said that I’d give a ball to the first person who approached me at the game. An usher in the Flag Court recognized me, but rather than claiming the ball for himself, he told the girl to go ask me for it. She was *so* shy. It was adorable, but also awkward. I imagined myself at that age and remembered how much I hated talking to strangers/grown-ups, so I crouched down to get at eye-level with her and cupped my ear as she barely managed to mumble a request for the ball.
4) I caught another homer on the fly — a line drive that I backhanded as I ran forward and dodged a table.
I wasn’t sure who hit any of these home runs. The usher told me it was Eric Hosmer, but there’s no way to be certain.
I headed back to left field and stayed there for the rest of BP. Mike continued to interview me and take notes . . .
. . . and I snagged one more ball — a toss-up from James Shields.
I ran to the Royals’ dugout at the end of BP . . .
. . . but got no love. Still, I was pleased with how the day had gone so far. I felt that I’d given Evan and Mike plenty of material to photograph and write about.
During the lull between BP and the game, I caught up with two fans who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign. We met in deep left field, and as I sat down to get started, a man walked by and yelled at me for diving over his female friend during BP to get a ball.
I was like, “Umm, I think you’ve got the wrong guy here — it wasn’t me,” but he insisted that I’d done it. He was really pissed off and told me that he recognized my face. Thankfully, the confrontation didn’t last long. He stormed off after five or ten seconds, but it left me feeling rather unsettled. Mike and Evan were there, along with Neal and several other fans.
“You guys have been following me around all day,” I said. “Did any of you see me dive over anyone at any point?”
They all shook their heads.
That’s when an usher approached me from behind and told me that she knew I hadn’t done it.
“We have the culprit,” she said. “It wasn’t you. I guess a few of you guys kinda look alike.”
Here’s a photo that Neal took during that exchange:
I was trying to laugh the whole thing off, but I also had a feeling of WTF.
“I wish you would’ve said something to the guy while he was here,” I told her.
“Well, he was clearly upset,” she said. ” I didn’t want to set him off any more by telling him he was wrong.”
“Yeah, but he saw the ‘Zack Hample’ on the back of my shirt, so now he’s gonna go on the internet and post some crap on an Orioles forum about what a dickhead I am.”
The point is: I don’t dive over people or knock folks down. EVER. It’s not my style, and yet I get accused of it all the time. I’ve even been accused of doing it at a game that I didn’t attend! No joke. Two years ago, I got a nasty email from a guy who blamed me for stealing a ball from his son at a specific Orioles game; I knew he was wrong right away because I simply don’t do that, but when I looked at the list of games that I’d attended, I discovered that I wasn’t even there that day.
Anyway, when things settled down, I began signing the books:
(No, they’re not related.)
Then he asked me to sign one of the balls that he’d snagged during BP:
Around that time, I gave one of my baseballs to a friendly usher to give to a kid, and then something odd happened:
As you can see in the photo above, the grounds crew partially pulled out the tarp despite the fact that it wasn’t raining. There was even an announcement about the the start of the game being pushed back half an hour due to “rain in the area” or some kinda nonsense like that. Did you notice the two fans in the previous photo with their arms out and palms turned upward? That was their “WTF” reaction to the announcement.
It never did rain, yet the game was delayed 31 minutes. I didn’t mind. It gave me time to use the bathroom and get some chicken tenders with fries . . . which leads to my one gripe about Camden Yards: it’s nearly impossibly to get a fork. How are you going to sell a man chicken tenders and fries and NOT offer him a fork? Seriously. Some people like to eat with their hands, but I don’t, especially at stadiums where my hands get dirty and/or I’m touching my glove and baseballs and don’t want to get grease all over. I had to walk through the concourse all the way from left field to 3rd base just to find a gosh-darned fork, and it nearly cost me a ball. Let me explain. Before I left the seats to go get food, there were half a dozen baseballs sitting in the Orioles’ bullpen — home run balls that had landed there during BP. I took a chance that they’d still be there when I returned, and if I’d been able to get a frickin’ fork with my meal, everything would’ve been fine. Here’s what happened: when I emerged from a tunnel on the left field foul line with my food, I noticed that Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair was heading toward the bullpen with two other guys. They were less than 100 feet from it, yet I was more than 300 feet away, so I ran (and I do mean RAN) through the empty rows with my tray of chicken tenders and fries and *barely* reached the edge of the bullpen as Adair began tossing all the balls into the crowd. Neal had been with me when I got the food, but he didn’t bother running with me to the bullpen. Instead, he pulled out his camera and happened to get a shot of one of the balls in mid-air:
I did get one of those balls, and for all I know, it might’ve been the one pictured above. That was No. 8 on the day, and I was completely out of breath and sweaty and dehydrated. Stupid Orioles and their lack of forks.
My 9th ball was thrown by Salvador Perez. In the following photo, which was taken moments later, you can see him standing in the small cluster of Royals in deep left-center field:
I had gotten his attention by standing on a seat, and when he lobbed the ball to me, I had to jump several inches and extend fully to reach it. Try standing on a seat and jumping some time (with a heavy backpack draped over your shoulder). It’s a bit scary.
Just before the game started, I headed here:
Jeremy Guthrie was warming up, and when he finished, he tossed the ball to pitching coach Dave Eiland, who tossed it to me. That felt good because I’d reached my goal of double digits, but there was still one more very important thing for me to try to accomplish: snagging a game-used ball. (Those of you who read this blog regularly might get sick of hearing me say this, but since there are always new readers stumbling upon it, it needs to be said: BIGS Sunflower Seeds is sponsoring me this season and donating $500 to Pitch In For Baseball for every stadium at which I snag a gamer.)
When the bottom of the 1st inning was winding down, I headed to the Royals’ dugout:
As you can see, Evan was there with his cameras, and as you can’t see, Mike was sitting right behind me. The 3rd-out ball ended up being tossed to the next section, so I switched over to Plan B, namely snagging a foul ball behind home plate.
This was my view in the top of the 2nd inning . . .
. . . and in the bottom of the 2nd, I got my chance. Adam Jones sent a foul ball shooting back in my direction, but it was about 20 feet too high. I didn’t give up on it, though, because at Camden Yards, when you’re playing for foul balls behind the plate, there’s always a chance of a ricochet.
Sure enough, the ball smacked off a metal support beam (on the side of the club level) and bounced down into the seats behind me and to the left. It then glanced off some fans and conveniently dropped into the cross-aisle. As several fans converged on it, I tried to swat at the ball with my glove. I should’ve been able to grab it at that point, but I didn’t come up with it cleanly. I was the closest person to the ball, but because it was still rattling around, I didn’t want to simply reach down and try to pick it up, so I dove on it. Keep in mind that I didn’t dive on anyone. I just kinda collapsed (in a safe, controlled manner) straight down on the ball so that I could trap it with my body and grab it with my bare hand. And it worked! I was super-excited, but my joy diminished when I learned that a middle-aged man sitting above the cross-aisle had gotten hit in the head with it. He wasn’t bleeding or unconscious or anything — just shaken up a bit — and his friend immediately started asking me for the ball. I felt bad saying this, but I told him that I had to keep it because it was going to be auctioned off at the end of the season for charity. That wasn’t a lie. The folks at BIGS have asked me (and I’ve agreed) to give them a game-used ball from every stadium this season for charity, but when I told that to the friend of the guy who’d gotten beaned, he was like, “Yeah RIGHT!!” I was in a tough spot so I tried to find the middle ground that would make everyone happy: I grabbed the ball that Salvador Perez had thrown me — it was mud-rubbed and looked game-used — and tossed it to the guy. Everyone applauded and felt warm-n-fuzzy, and someday, the poor sap who got drilled can give the ball to his grandson and tell him about the time that he caught an Adam Jones foul ball way back in 2013.
Then I ducked into a tunnel (out of view of the aforementioned fans) and took a photo of the ball:
That’s the 154th foul ball that I’ve ever snagged during a game.
I spent the rest of the night in the Flag Court, hoping for a home run. This was my view:
In the photo above, the three arrows are pointing to Neal (who had kindly offered to hold my backpack for a few innings), Evan, and Mike.
In the top of the 4th inning, Alex Gordon launched a two-run homer to the back of the Flag Court. I had no chance to catch it on the fly because of the new-ish picnic tables that blocked my path. Then, after the ball landed, I had no chance to grab it because it ended up on the wrong side of some gates. Click here to watch the highlight; you’ll see me standing around helplessly:
Alex was out there too (pictured below in the orange shirt). He and I were both stunned at how close we’d come . . .
. . . but I told Mike that I wasn’t upset. I said something like, “I’ve misplayed home runs that were far more significant, so I’ll continue to be pissed off about those and not worry about this one.”
Before he and Evan took off in the 5th inning, I showed them the glove trick:
Several innings later, Neal, who was sitting just below the press box, missed a foul ball by one row. Here he is:
In the photo above, Neal is the guy with his arm on the back of a seat. Note the woman wearing blue, holding the ball. I feel bad for Neal, but not THAT bad; if he weren’t constantly threatening to rob me of baseballs, I might actually help him snag one. (Actually, I did help by suggesting that he sit there in the first place.)
After the game, I caught up with an old friend named Avi and a new friend named Larry. I owe them both a big thank you, along with Tim and Alex and a bunch of other Camden Yards regulars. I barged in on their world for a day with several folks from the media in tow, and they all put up with me. Same goes for Rocco in Cincinnati, Tom in Cleveland, Garrett and Bob in Kansas City, Trent in Arlington, Leigh and T.C. in San Diego, and probably more people in other cities that I can’t think of right now. This whole season is bonkers, and believe me, I feel VERY lucky to be doing this. I just hope I’m not pissing off too many people in the process.
That said, some people will inevitably be pissed off by what I found in the garage:
(“That damn Zack Hample! He knocks over kids and dives over ladies and has all the luck! Catches every home run. Never gives anyone else a chance! Gives fake foul balls to fans! Complains about forks when there are starving children in the world who don’t even have hands. And he probably put that $5 bill there himself. What a douche!”)
UPDATE: Mike’s article has been published, and it’s amazing. Here’s the link.
• 171 balls in 22 games this season = 7.77 balls per game.
• 521 balls in 55 lifetime games at Camden Yards = 9.47 balls per game.
• 894 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 14 stadiums this season with a game-used ball: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, PETCO Park, AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards
• 6,630 total balls
(For every stadium this season at which I snag a game-used ball, BIGS Sunflower Seeds will donate $500 to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. In addition to that, I’m doing my own fundraiser again this season for Pitch In For Baseball.)
• 26 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.63 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.93 raised at this game
• $277.73 raised this season through my fundraiser
• $7,000 from BIGS Sunflower Seeds for my game-used baseballs
• $28,683.73 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009