Hey, kid, you know why your mitt is always empty when you come home from a major league game? It's because you've got no clue!
If you'd listen to Zack Hample, you'd come home with a ball from every game. Two, even! Five! In the last 11 years Zack, 23, says he has come home with 1,680 major league baseballs. And that's just from throws by Chuck Knoblauch.
No, seriously, Zack, a student whose home is New York City, averages six balls a game. He has gotten 14 in one game four times. He even has a book out: How to Snag Major League Baseballs ($3.99, Simon & Schuster). According to Zack, these are the questions you should be asking yourself.
1. Are you using your head? You're leaning over the dugout roof, begging Ken Griffey Jr. for a ball, but you're wearing a Dodgers hat! Griffey isn't tossing a ball to a Dodgers hat. That's why Zack brings the caps of both teams to each game. He calls players by their names, never "Hey, number 8!" He has even asked for balls in Spanish and Japanese and by signing. Plus, knowing players like to toss balls to kids, he raises his voice an octave when he asks. (Someday, Zack will run the world.)
2. Are you ready? No, you're slurping ice cream out of a little souvenir helmet! How are you going to leap for a ball with that on your lap? And always sit on the aisle, even if it's not your seat. That way you can sprint to a ball or away from a security guard. (Zack also brings an extra shirt, in case he needs it as a disguise if a guard is after him.)
3. Where were you during batting practice? Zack snags 97% of his balls during BP and other nongame situations. He knows what time every big league park opens, and he's always first through the gate. No wonder Zack has now gone 264 straight games catching at least one baseball. Hell, Bill Buckner used to be lucky if he could go three.
4. Is that all you brought—a mitt? You need the ZackTrap. It's his glove attached to a long string and with a rubber band around it, which makes a perfect opening for a ball to roll into the pocket. Zack lowers the trap onto the field to snag strays. He even used it from the upper deck at the old Tiger Stadium. That was about 40 feet. And he nailed one! Florida Marlins pitchers were so amazed by the ZackTrap, they kept throwing balls out of the bullpen simply to watch Zack try to pick them up.
5. Why are you sitting next to a six-foot guy with a mitt? He'll outreach you. "You need to look for a family fascinated by the JumboTron," Zack says, "or very old people."
6. O.K., here comes a ball, so what do you do? You run right to the approaching ball. What does Zack do? He runs to a spot three rows of seats below where he figures it will land, because baseballs roll downhill. "Everybody overplays 'em," he says.
7. Is your brain made of Skittles? Then why are you camped out along the third base line for a righthanded hitter? Zack says that 99.9% of fouls are sliced the opposite way. "For a righthander, I draw an imaginary line from the leftfielder through home plate," Zack says. "That's the perfect place to sit."