Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview: Zack Hample of "The Baseball"

The first interview Mr NYC ever did was with Zack Hample, baseball fan extrodinaire and author of some very unique books about America's favorite past-time.

When we talked to Zack before it was about his book Watching Baseball Smarter:  A Professional Fan's Guide to Beginners, Semi-experts and Deeply Serious Geeks. His new book, just out this month, is The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches. In this book, Zack looks at the object of the baseball itself and how it has influenced not only the game of baseball but the popular culture and conscientious at large.

So tell us what made you want to write The Baseball?
I've had a strange fixation with baseballs ever since I started snagging them at major league games in 1990. Back then -- and for most of the next two decades -- it was just a fun hobby that I obsessed over. All I wanted to do was collect as many as possible, but eventually I realized just how special baseballs are, and I thought it'd be cool to write a whole book about it.

Why do baseballs have so much symbolic power? Is it something about how they're designed and how they look? 
First of all, the baseball is THE object at the center of the national pastime. Secondly, baseballs have changed more than any other piece of equipment in the history of the sport. And third, baseballs are fun. There have been all kinds of controversies related to the ball. People have done all sorts of wacky stunts and experiments with baseballs. There have been lots of foul ball scenes in movies and TV shows, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, I Love Lucy, Sex and the City, and Sesame Street. The baseball is a cultural phenomenon. You can pretty much trace the history of the sport -- and in some cases, the history of America as well -- through the ball itself.

Give us a few examples of the baseball-related stories or observations in your book.
Oh, man, where to begin? There was the time that Pakistani drug dealers tried to smuggle heroin into America by hiding it in the core of baseballs. Or the time that a wayward foul ball crashed through the windshield of a small airplane in the South Pacific during World War II and knocked the pilot unconscious. Or the time that Babe Ruth attempted to catch a ball that was dropped from an airplane. Or the time that Dave Winfield was arrested for animal cruelty after throwing a ball that struck and killed a dove. Or the stories of ceremonial first pitches that have been thrown by astronauts in outer space. Or the time that Charlie Sheen bought the entire left field pavilion -- more than 2,600 seats -- at an Angels game because he was so determined to snag a home run ball. The list goes on and on.

Tell us something about baseballs that most people don't know.
There are 350 employees at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica whose sole job is to stitch baseballs by hand. Each employee has a stamp with a unique serial number, and after every baseball is completed, it gets stamped with invisible ink. Later on, the factory's inspectors pull out defective balls, examine them in ultraviolet light, make a note of the serial numbers, and send the balls back for repair to the employees who stitched them. Cool, huh? But wait, there's more. Toward the very end of the manufacturing process, the balls get wiped with a cleaning solvent to remove any smudges from the cowhide covers. Sometimes the solvent happens to remove the invisible ink stamps, but not always, so if you buy a major league ball or snag one at a game, check it out under a black light and you might see one of Rawlings' secret serial numbers.

So what's the latest number of MLB baseballs that you've caught?
My lifetime total is 4,662. If all goes according to plan, I'll snag No. 5,000 this season, and by the way, the final third of the book is called "How to Snag Major League Baseballs." It will teach you how to go to a game and catch a ball, guaranteed. And you'll have a few laughs in the process.

The new baseball season is about to begin. What are you thoughts?  
Well, on a personal level, I'm thinking about trying to hit up all 30 major league stadiums. I've already visited them all -- I've been to 48 major league stadiums overall -- but I've never done it in one season. In terms of how the season will play out, I'm predicting that the Phillies will beat the Red Sox in the World Series.

Thanks Zack! 

1 comment:

  1. A very nice and interesting interview, congratulations for it. I like Zack`s books a lot. I wait for your next interview.


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