July 12, 1999 12:00 PM

A sharp grounder whizzes down the third-base line at New York City’s Shea Stadium, past 20 outstretched gloves and fishnets, before coming to rest four feet from the stands. Enter Zack Hample, 21, the world’s greatest baseball snagger. Nimbly vaulting three railings to reach the wall, the limber New Yorker tosses a mitt ingeniously tied to a 22-foot-long string, hooks the ball and reels it in. Onlookers go, “Oooh.” Hample simply grins. “When I was little, I’d watch the games on TV,” he says later. “The person who got the ball would hold it up triumphantly, blowing kisses to the crowd. I wanted that to be me.”

It often is. While many fans spend a lifetime hoping to get a stray ball, Hample averages an incredible six a game (1,392 in 18 stadiums since 1993). He has even written a book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, revealing his trade secrets. Topping the list: Be the first fan to enter the stadium—batting practice is the easiest time to grab balls. And if you want, say, Ken Griffey Jr. to toss you a ball, Hample advises, “Don’t call him ‘Yo!’ or ‘Hey, you!’ and don’t make annoying whistling noises.” Called a ball hog by some, the un-apologetic Hample, now a student at Guilford College in North Carolina, says he has no plans of slacking off: “If you love something, why not do it all the time if you can?”

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