MASN Baltimore announcer Gary Thorne saw a stray fan catch his second consecutive foul ball in the first inning of a May 12 game at Camden Yards between the Orioles and Mariners, prompting him cry out: "Sign 'em up! Right place, right time and brought the glove!"
Four innings later, the broadcast spotlight was back on that fan after catching his third foul ball of the game. Thorne and his colleagues, former Orioles Jim Palmer and Rick Dempsey, joked about how those were likely the only three major league balls the fan had ever caught.
Try 4,921. That’s how many batting practice, foul, and home run balls Zack Hample, the celebrity of the night, claims to have amassed over a 21-year career of ball-hunting at MLB parks.
To Hample, his Oriole Park success wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was just a successful day at the ball park -- or in his case, the office.
In 1990, as a 12-year-old at Shea Stadium, Hample was tossed two balls during batting practice by Mets players. That day for Hample was like "a baby shark tasting blood for the first time," his late father once said.
The childhood event sparked Hample's affection for major league baseballs. His 21-year journey has given birth to a website, an MLB.com blog, a Wikipedia page, and three books, including "Watching Baseball Smarter," the No. 8 best-selling American sports book in 2007. He caught Barry Bonds' 724th career home run, the first home run of the 2007 Home Run Derby (by Justin Morneau), and the final Mets home run ever hit at Shea Stadium (by Carlos Beltran).
Along the way, he has appeared on "The Tonight Show" (separate appearances with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien), "The Rosie O’Donnell Show," "The CBS Evening News" and "To Tell the Truth."
All of Hample’s souvenirs have charitable benefit, as well. A variety of donors have pledged money to "Pitch In For Baseball," a Little League International Charity, for every ball Hample has caught. The charity, which gives baseball and softball equipment to youth leagues, had gained over $14,000 from Hample’s donors as of the May 12 game.
To put it nicely, the Orioles broadcast team was just a bit off about Zack Hample being lucky. Sure, it's not every day that Hample gets two in a row, but it wasn't a fluke. Hample has always been a mobile figure at the dozens of MLB parks he's stepped foot into, heading to the first base side for righties and the third base side for lefties. At some point, he was bound to read a hitter's foul balls well enough to snatch two in a row (Chone Figgins was the winner).
Oh, and about the three-ball total. Hample actually caught five other balls during batting practice (thus the backpack). He also left Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City with 32 balls on June 18, 2009.
The 33-year-old New York City resident does not plan on ending his ball-hawking and blogging lifestyle any time soon. He recently wrote the introduction to New York Times columnist Stuart Miller’s "Baseball Scorekeeper," a journal for attending baseball games.