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Sports

This guy's got gift of grab

Zack Hample was running late yesterday for interviews with

Japanese TV, NBC and YES, so he opted against the subway and instead hailed a

cab on the Upper West Side.

"This is just crazy," he said, breathless, into his cell phone, running

toward Amsterdam Avenue. "Geez. Where's a taxi when you need one! Geez! Oh, my

God."

Finally, he found one. "Yankee Stadium," he said to the driver.

So it went on the strangest day yet for Hample, 31, in a 25-year obsession

that made him semifamous, and more famous now than ever.

Hample is one of the world's leading experts at gathering balls at baseball

games, from batting practice to foul balls to home runs. He wrote two books

about it, and has a Web site and blog.

It wasn't until recently, though, that he discovered the joys of the

rightfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium, where he found himself Tuesday when he

caught Jason Giambi's home run ball. He did a goofy dance to celebrate, and was

caught on camera.

Wednesday, he was back. He caught a Johnny Damon home run ball. He did the

dance again.

YES recalled him from the day before and ran the video, which was shown on

ESPN's SportsCenter and picked up elsewhere.

Hample explained it all in extreme detail on his blog yesterday, writing,

"My life has been insane since last night . . . It's just nuts!"

In addition to last night's interviews, he was to appear on CBS' "Early

Show" this morning.

"I have had a couple of books out, but as far as one defining moment, this

is right at the top," Hample said as the cab made its way to the Bronx.

For all his ball-hogging savvy, he admitted luck played a role. "If you

flip a penny a billion times, it will land on the edge once," he said. "If you

flip it a trillion times, it might happen twice in a row."

Hample, who lives in Manhattan, attended his first Yankees game at age 6,

standing in the upper deck hoping for a ball to come his way. It took six years

to get his first.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would turn into this," he said.

"It's a beast."

Hample has secured nearly 3800 balls at 44 major-league parks, mostly

during batting practice.

Thrice he has gotten three foul balls in one game. Overall this season he

has 486 balls, shattering his previous mark of 321.

"I think I have an obsessive personality by nature," he said.

In addition to his writing, Hample shares his knowledge with fans for a

fee, a business called "Watch with Zack." In the offseason he works at his

family's Manhattan bookstore.

Hample is not a Yankees fan, and said Shea is better for him because there

are fewer people and security is more lax. He keeps going to the Bronx "for one

reason and one reason only: to try to catch an A-Rod home run. But I'm getting

no love from A-Rod."

Where did the dance come from? "Some dark, terrible place deep within

myself," he said. "My girlfriend is a former professional dancer. She's

humiliated."

Hample doesn't mind the attention. On the contrary. "I'm a media whore; I

admit it," he said. "I just want to have fun for myself, friends and family and

people who read my blog. I just feel like life is more fun when it's silly, so

I just ran with it."

Tricks of the trade

With the help of what he calls a "Glove Trick," Zach Hample has secured

more than 3,800 baseballs at 44 major-league ballparks. Here's how it works:

Start with a baseball glove, a rubber band, a Sharpie and some string.

Tie the string to the handle of your glove and keep it tucked away in the

palm when you're not using it.

Hook the band under the flap on the outside of your glove's pocket.

Stretch the band over the tip of your glove and prop the glove open with

the Sharpie.

Lower your glove over the ball. The glove's weight forces the band to

stretch around the ball. But first make sure that the band is not too tight or

the ball won't go in, or too loose or the ball won't stay in. This takes

practice.

Lift the glove slowly so the ball doesn't fall out. Wedge the ball in

there, and then the pressure from the glove and rubber band should hold it in

place.

New York Sports