5/12/16 at Yankee Stadium

My first ball of the day was a batting practice homer by Chase Headley that I caught on the fly in right field. My second ball, hit by a lefty that I couldn’t identify, whacked a seat so hard that it shot up in the air and deflected off the bottom of the second deck . . . kinda like this:

1_ball8821_crazy_richochet

My third ball was another homer hit by the same guy, and I made a nice play on it. I ran 20 feet to my left, climbed back over a row, and with the sun in my eyes, I jumped 2_orlando_dysonand caught it with full extension. I handed my fourth ball to the nearest kid. That was a high-arcing ground-rule double hit by Dustin Ackley, and when the Royals took the field, I promptly got a pair of toss-ups from Paulo Orlando (I gave that one away too) and Jarrod Dyson. Neither of those balls was thrown to anyone in particular, and in fact the one from Dyson was a no-look flip. 3_perez_moralesThe Royals were noticeably generous throughout this four-game series. I can’t remember seeing any team consistently throw so many balls into the crowd. The Royals also hit a ton of balls into the seats, and I caught a couple of homers by Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales. For the first one, I drifted to my right and climbed down over a row of seats, and for the second, I ran half a section to my right. That brought my total for the day to eight, and when I snagged a ground-rule double during the final group, I had tripled my effort from BP the previous day.

Before the game, I headed over to the left field bullpen to watch Ian Kennedy warm up:

4_ian_kennedy_warming_up

He looked good.
He was hitting his spots.
There was no indication that he was about to get shellacked.

I never expected Starlin Castro to hit an opposite-field homer, but in the bottom of the 1st inning, he connected on a mediocre fastball:

5_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

Let me clarify: I didn’t expect it, but I was ready, and when the ball started flying in my direction, I knew what I had to do. Basically I darted 10 feet to my right and, taking my eye off the ball briefly, climbed back over a row through a narrow gap between two people. Here I am (in the pink-ish shirt) making my move:

6_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

The ball ended up tailing more than I expected, so I had to drift a few feet back, and then I disappeared from view:

7_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

Here’s another angle that shows me reaching up between two people — look closely and you’ll see the ball streaking into my glove:

8_starlin_castro_home_run_screen_shot

The highlight on MLB.com doesn’t show me at all, but my celebration was captured by another network:

9_zack_after_starlin_castro_homer

I was particularly excited about catching a home run for the second day in a row and also about raising more money for the charity Pitch In For Baseball. People are pledging money for each of my game home runs this season, so the more of them I snag, the more underprivileged kids will get to play baseball. For more info about my fundraiser, click here.

Here’s the ball (with a vendor photobombing):

10_starlin_castro_home_run_ball_photobombed_by_vendor

An hour later, the section had gotten even more crowded, so I moved to the back row, where there was some open space. Once again, I didn’t expect anyone to launch a ball back there, but I was ready when Didi Gregorius connected in the bottom of the 4th. In the following screen shot, the arrow is pointing to the ball streaking up in the air:

11_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

Here I am running through the row . . .

12_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

. . . and reaching up for the catch:

13_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot

Even though I had to move about 25 feet for that one, it was very easy. As I’ve said before, judging the distance of a ball right off the bat is *much* harder than judging the direction. In other words, it was obvious from the start that this ball was heading to my left, so I simply took off in that direction. Luckily for me, it was hit with the just the right distance for me to catch it in my row, and not only that, but if Didi had pulled it three feet closer to the foul pole, I wouldn’t have been able to catch it. I could not have taken one additional step because there was someone sitting/ducking/blocking me from moving any farther.

Once again, the MLB.com highlight didn’t show me. Instead, it was all about former tennis star John McEnroe:

14_didi_gregorius_home_run_screen_shot_john_mcenroe_wtf

Hmph.

I was glad to discover later (when someone tweeted a screen shot) that the YES Network showed me holding up both home run balls:

15_zack_holding_two_home_run_balls

Here’s another shot of me photographing them — super attractive, right?

16_zack_photographing_baseballs

A little while later, I tweeted my photo of the baseballs:

17_tweet_about_two_home_runs

In case you’re wondering, here are the other three games at which I’ve snagged two home runs:

May 13, 2010 at Camden Yards
April 18, 2013 at Yankee Stadium
September 16, 2015 at Citizens Bank Park

Not surprisingly, lots of people tweeted at me after the Didi Gregorius homer:

16b_nice_tweets_from_nice_people

Of course there were some haters too:

18_haters_gonna_hate

Someone else tweeted a photo of me looking at my phone, told me to pay attention to the game, and called me a derogatory term for the female genitalia. #StayClassy

Anyway, here I am with the two home runs balls:

19_zack_with_two_home_runs

When things settled down for me after the second home run, I gave away five BP balls to kids, both in my section and up above in the bleachers.

After the game, which the Yankees won, 7-3, I noticed that the highlights were being played on the jumbotron. Here I am after the Didi Gregorius homer:

20_zack_on_the_jumbotron_after_didi_gregorius_homer

Just before I left the stadium, I caught up with a security guard who had gotten drilled on the shoulder by a BP homer several days earlier. Check out this gnarly bruise:

21_security_guard_with_bruise

Of the 11 balls that I had gotten, here are the four that I kept:

22_the_four_balls_i_kept_05_12_16

In the photo above, the Starlin homer is on the lower left, and Didi homer is on the lower right. (The Yankees have some cool first names, huh? Starlin, Didi, Dellin, Aroldis, Chasen, Masahiro, and Kirby.)

Later that night, I was excited to see myself featured on SportsCenter . . . for the second night in a row. Look how they put my name on the screen to show me in the crowd on the Starlin homer:

23_zack_on_sportscenter

For Didi’s shot, they circled me in color and changed everything else to black and white:

24_zack_on_sportscenter

They also showed my tweet for quite a while:

25_zack_on_sportscenter

I timed how long it stayed on the screen: 19 seconds!

Someone else sent me a minute-long clip of some other show (in Canada?) that featured me and did a little “flashback.” Here are six screen shots:

26_six_screen_shots_in_one

1) It started with the flashback.
2) Me after snagging A-Rod’s 3,000th hit on June 19, 2015.
3) Me after catching Carlos Beltran’s homer the previous night.
4) Celebrating after the Starlin homer.
5) Holding both balls up after catching Didi’s dinger.
6) Not giving baseballs to kids because I’m a monster.

That’s actually how some people interpreted it. The fact is . . . those kids had recognized me earlier in the day and weren’t asking for the balls. They were simply happy for me and came over to share the moment and say congrats.

Oh, and get this . . . when that show played the highlight of the Starlin homer, the woman doing the highlights said, “Starlin Castro drives one deep opposite field off Ian Kennedy, and ya know who’s gonna catch it? A man who acts like he’s never caught a ball in his life. Act like you’ve been there before.”

Oh, okay, no problem. From now on I’ll pretend that I don’t like baseball and that it’s boring to catch home runs. I’m terribly sorry for being happy. Raising more money for a children’s baseball is also no cause for celebration.

The following day, a friend in Kansas City sent me a photo of his local newspaper:

27_zack_in_kansas_city_newspaper

The more I look at photos and videos of that home run, the more surprised I am that the tall guy in the light gray shirt didn’t deflect it.

Remember the vendor who photobombed me? He’s a good friend and texted me with his assessment of my effort on the Starlin homer:

28_texts_with_vendor

As you may have noticed, I didn’t take many photos at this game. I’ve mostly pieced this whole story together with screen shots, so let me show you four more:

29_screen_shots_from_all_my_games_with_two_home_runs

Those are the four times that I’ve snagged two home runs in one game.

Lots of people have been asking something to effect of, “How do you do it?” so here’s a very specific answer. I constantly look around at the shifting layout of the crowd. I also imagine home runs landing in various places and envision the route that I’d take to get there. If there’s a railing blocking me and/or fans, guards, and vendors, I’m hyperaware of that. If I have 10 feet of open space to work with but the ball is hit 15 feet away, I’m already planning to run those 10 feet and then climb up or down over a row so that I can keep moving. Most people don’t plan ahead like that, so when the ball goes up in the air, they have no chance unless it’s hit right at them — and even then, most people don’t have gloves and/0r can’t catch. Yeah, I was lucky to have two home runs hit in my vicinity when I had a little room to maneuver, but I often have much more space and far less luck. If I keep sitting in good spots, balls will eventually find me. That’s how I see it.

Someday I’m going to snag three home runs in one game. Mark my words . . .

BALLHAWKING STATS:

• 11 baseballs at this game

• 197 balls in 22 games this season = 8.95 balls per game.

 1,324 balls in 187 lifetime games at the new Yankee Stadium = 7.08 balls per game.

• 1,188 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 41 lifetime game home run balls (not counting toss-ups; click here for the complete list)

8,830 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

My fundraiser for Pitch In For Baseball is now in its eighth season. Once again, people are pledging money for every home run ball that I snag during games. Here’s some info about the fundraiser, and if you donate, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.

• 9 donors for my fundraiser

• $77.77 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $233.31 raised this season

• $190,736.97 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009

6 comments

  1. Brian

    It blows my mind that people are so angry that you’re so happy. It must really suck to be said people. Good for you though Zack to just let it roll off your back. Congrats on the HR balls!!

  2. Zack Hample

    Thanks very much! I’m not surprised, though. I’ve realized that no matter what I ever do, some people will find a reason to be pissed off about it.

  3. Shaan Ahuja

    Hey Zach. You recently told me you would be in Cincinnati tomorrow. Any chance I could meet you at the game and maybe get your autograph? You are really cool and I am amazed by your talent of snagging baseballs. Just tell me where I could meet you at(maybe like right field after BP). Thanks!

  4. Jeremy

    Hey Zack, I was actually talking about your book with a friend on this night while at a bar and you popped up on ESPN. I was freaking out saying that’s him the guy that wrote the baseball book. I’m going to the mets game tomorrow and I’m going to try to snag my first ball. I was at the stadium a couple weeks back and almost got a throw up and even snuck down to behind the mets dugout with your advice of looking for tickets later in the game. Thanks for the blog and you tube channel and keep up the great work.

  5. Jeremy

    Hey Zack, thanks again for the advice, I got my first batting practice ball and first game ball from an ump at the end of the game. I even bought a nationals hat to try for a toss up and had a Met fan talking trash to me, even though I secretly had my david wright shirt under my red hoodie. You totally made my day!

  6. Zack Hample

    SHAAN-
    Hey! I’m really glad we were able to meet up. Sorry for not responding sooner. I’ve been sooooo busy, but you did an excellent job of tracking me down.

    JEREMY-
    You’re very welcome! Glad it worked out, but hey, you should say “toss-up” instead of “throw-up” because it sounds a lot better. :)

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