In the midst of SeatGeek's coverage of Alex Rodriguez's chase to 600 home runs and where the ball is most likely to land, we caught up with Zack Hample, a baseball fan, published author, owner of over 4500 baseballs, and one of the best ball snaggers in the world. Hample has snagged at least one ball in every game he has went to since 1993, including the last Mets home run to ever be hit at Shea Stadium, and Barry Bond's 724th career home run. Given Hample's pedigree, we thought it would be more than appropriate to get some pointers from him on how to catch A-Rod's 600th home run.
For Hample, catching balls is all about lateral movement. If the ballpark allows for space to move left and right, Hample believes he has a good shot at snagging the ball. Standing room only sections in the outfield are the best place to be, since they allow the most movement and the opportunity to chase down the ball.
While most fans were disappointed that Rodriguez couldn't hit home run 600 on the Yankees past home stand, Hample probably didn't mind.
Hample doesn't like Yankee Stadium, because there are no cross-aisles, and no room to move laterally. While SeatGeek and Hit Tracker predicted that the most likely section that A-Rod would hit 600 in (Section 136) and the most likely seat (Section 135, Row 18, Seat 6), that information is not as useful for snaggers like Hample when in Yankee Stadium in comparison to other stadiums. If you are stuck in the middle of a row, you are constricted in your ability to move left or right to catch the ball. Instead, the ball must be hit directly at you in order for you to have a chance at catching it, which makes being in "The Money Seat" that much more important.
Hample has actually never caught a home run ball without having to move left or right to get to it. In fact, it really is more luck than anything else to catch a baseball that is hit right at you. Fortunately, "The Money Seat" at Progressive Field is an aisle seat - Section 181, Row J, the aisle seat in between sections 180 and 181. An aisle seat leaves room for whoever is sitting in the end to get up and run into the aisle to snag the home run ball.
Yet, even if A-Rod hits his 600th home run at Progressive Field but it is not near "The Money Seat", fans still have a better chance at catching it in Cleveland than at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Progressive Field is much more fan friendly for ball snaggers, because there is much more area in the outfield for fans to try and get their hands on a ball. In addition to the bleachers, there is also the "Home Run Porch" down the left field line, a standing room only section and ball snagger's haven. While Progressive Field has a lot of real estate, Yankee Stadium has less bleachers, and less room to catch a ball. For that reason, Progressive Field is one of Hample's favorite stadiums, while Yankee Stadium is fairly low on his list.
Aside from the aformentioned, there are a few other factors that affect a snagger's ability to get balls.
- Stands layout (i.e., if there are cross-aisles and/or room to move laterally)
- Standing room only sections which allow for maximum side-to-side movement
- Whether or not security allows fans to move around the stadium
- How crowded the stands are (more people equals more competition)
At this point, it is up in the air whether or not Hample will travel to Progressive. If he does, I'm personally pretty confident that he can come home with A-Rod's 600th home run, provided the ball is hit remotely near him. Hample said he was only five feet away from snagging Ken Griffey, Jr.'s 600th home run, so it may be with a vengeance that he tries to snag Rodriguez's 600th.
Hample has never sold any of the balls he has caught - he has either kept them or given them away to a nearby kid at the stadium. But what if he caught A-Rod's 600th, which is predicted to resell for over $100,000?
"I would sell it", Hample admitted. "I would give half of it to charity, buy my girlfriend a Mini Cooper, and then that would leave a little left for me."
I guess for Hample it's more about the thrill of snagging than it is the money.
Special thanks to Zack Hample for the interview. Zack is the author of "How to Snag Major League Baseballs" and "Watching Baseball Smarter". While he snags baseballs as a hobby, he is also doing it for a good cause, and money is being pledged to the charity Pitch in For Baseball for every ball he snags in the 2010 season. Click here for more information.