Famed baseball-collector Zack Hample succeeds at The Cell

(Riley Blevins )
May 23, 2013|By Riley Blevins @Riley_Blevins | RedEye

Zack Hample was more than nervous.

In fact, had the record-setting baseball collector been in his hometown of New York City, he would have taken a U-turn.

It doesn't matter if he already had tickets. He'd bite the bullet.

But he couldn't do that Wednesday night. U.S. Cellular Field was a worst case scenario.   

Steady rain throughout the afternoon flooded out batting practice.

“It was the kind of day where streaks end,” Hample said, who has accumulated more than 6,680 balls at MLB games in his lifetime.  

Bigs Sunflower Seeds is challenging Hample to snag a game-used ball at all 30 big-league ballparks this season and will donate $500 to Pitch in for Baseball for every stadium at which he succeeds.

Sure, BP balls don’t count toward his charity crusade, but they do count in a hefty streak of his own.

Prior to Wednesday, Hample had attended 901 consecutive games where he pocketed a baseball.  

No batting practice left that jaw-dropping number hanging in the balance.

But only for a minute or so.

Hample spotted three balls laying in the Red Sox bullpen in right field. He set up his glove-string-rubber-band-Sharpie marker contraption and retrieved two of them. Crisis averted.

A few minutes later, a security guard tossed him a third.

Now, time to tackle the charity challenge.

Hample failed to corral a game-used ball at Tuesday’s White Sox-Red Sox game (RedEye followed him the entire contest).

Prior to his trip to The Cell, Hample was a perfect 14-for-14 at stadium stops.

But don’t fret, in the top of the third inning, Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield flipped Hample a foul ball dribbled off the bat of Dustin Pedroia.

It took Hample 12 innings of baseball to capture a game-used ball at The Cell.

“I was so, so relieved,” Hample said. “I was lucky to have two games at The Cell. But I got it done.”

And for good measure, Hample coaxed an umpire and Red Sox first-base coach Arnie Beyeler to throw him a pair of balls after the game.

Hample departs Chicago with a total of 14 balls (eight Tuesday, six Wednesday). He now heads to Detriot.

But Hample returns to the Windy City (unofficially, subject to change) on June 7, when he will then tackle the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  

But for Hample, there’s really nothing “friendly” about the Chicago landmark.

“Wrigley is one of the best ballparks just in terms of the atmosphere and the stadium itself,” Hample said. “It’s hard to compete with being at Wrigley as far as the experience of being at a baseball game, but I dread going there.”

Unlike its South Side counterpart, Wrigley Field is packed with nightmares for ballhawks. 

To start, the outfield bleachers are separated from the rest of the stadium.

Batting practice is the easiest way for Hample to maintain his personal ball-snagging streak. Obviously, the outfield is the best place to sit to scrounge for balls pregame.

But once the game begins, you’re stuck.

If Hample had to rely on trying to nab a home-run ball, he would be essentially giving a death sentence to his charity challenge.

To avoid this, Hample said he may buy two tickets--one in the bleachers and one somewhere along the first or third-base lines.

But even then he’s far from the clear.

At The Cell, Hample roamed freely from section to section. No ushers lurked in the aisles to check tickets. Time after time, he walked right up to the dugout.

Not at Wrigley.  

Ushers patrol endlessly on the North Side. The stadium is cramped. Winds whip balls in mysterious directions. Or as Hample puts it, “Everything about that stadium works against me.”

However, the last time Hample was at Wrigley (on Sept. 19, 2011) he nabbed a modest 10 balls.

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