When I first heard of the fact that Zack was doing a book on the baseball itself I thought to myself, ” now why is he doing a book about the creation of the baseball. He should sell a second book solely on the topic of snagging baseballs. The other stuff will just come across as fluff to his fan base.” Boy was I wrong. I was hooked in the first few chapters of the predicted “fluff”.
If you notice, my book might be the most worn 1 day old book I at least have ever seen.
Let me show you the anatomy of the book.
Part 1: Baseballs in the news
Ch 1: The Souvenir Craze
Ch 2: Foul Ball Lore
Ch 3: Death By Baseball
Ch 4: Stunts
Ch 5: Foul Balls in Pop Culture
Part Two: Historical and Factual Stuff
Ch 6: The Evolution Of The Baseball
Ch 7: The Rawlings Method
Ch 8: Storage Preparation and Usage
Part Three: How To Snag Major League Baseballs
Ch 9: Before You Enter The Stadium
Ch 10: Batting Practice
Ch 11: How To Get A Player To Throw A Ball To You
Ch 12: The Game Itself
Ch 13: Top 10 Lists and Other Things Of Interest
I must say that every part seems like its own separate book. Each begin at the beginning of time for that respective subject. So will I in encompassing this book.
In the beginning, the world was a dark void where fans could not keep the baseballs they caught. That’s basically how the book starts, by introducing the fact that baseballs were too expensive for teams to replace. Then goes on to explain the fan revolt caused by this fact. Personally I would have had this section elsewhere in the book, but more on the structure later.
We then start to read the effect the value had/has produced many controversies amongst fans because of the greed of fans. Examples range from, Steve Bartman having to be transferred by his company to The Up For Grabs controversy. From there, he shows how the price of baseballs has evolved, showing the 10 most expensive baseballs.
Move on to chapter 2. He again builds the chapter from beginning to end. Starting with the effect of the institution of the “foul balls are strikes” rule and what had happened prior to that. Leading all the way up to Denard Span hitting his own mother with a foul ball in 2009 spring training. This is a chapter of crazy stories that was extremely well researched and was not the summaries of the incidents but the whole story.
Then a more in a ( somewhat) more somber version of the previous chapter ( Hample was not himself somber as he took the role of reporter but the stories were obviously sad) retelling the tales of deaths by the baseball ranging from Ray Chapman to the seagull that almost had Dave Winfield incarcerated for six months in Canada ( Why would he kill a seagull *on purpose*? He’s from Minnesota). This was essentially the same as the last chapter but I get the separation to create the effect of an in memoriam.
The next is the scientific experimentation section of the book with stunts ranging from Myth Busters in baseball to Pakistanis trying to smuggle heroin inside of baseballs ( dang dogs!).This provides practical knowledge and some great fun facts about how things in baseball were proved and some of the crazy things the lull of baseball has made its players attempt. This was again really fun to read and great for retrospective reference ( I love when I can actually use big words and they make some sense together).
Then come the more relevant facts of the book to today. Of the past chapters you might say ” but Mateo, how do they affect the price of tea in China”. They don’t. This chapter might not have an affect on anything in China but it sure does have more to do with the modern world. First Hample undergoes the endlessly critiqueable ( that is a word… right?) job of choosing the most relevant foul balls in movies and TV shows. He analyzes the logistical flaws with each of twelve scenes such as, did the extras reacts in Movies from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to shows like CSI: NY. Although, the critiques were even more uniform than my team recaps and previews (ok, so maybe they weren’t that uniform). The next section in this chapter was a personal highlight, celebrity ballhawks. I don’t really care about the significance of the ball as much as the human element that it added to the celebrities. The Celebrities ranged from Charlie Sheen to Justin Bieber totaling 9 . The section was done like the others with fun in the section and loads of background information.
Now to the negative. Chapter six starts off Part Two of the book, Historical and Factual Stuff. This is a great reference book on its own but feels like your are reading every single plaque in Cooperstown on a section dedicated to the history of the baseball from 1847 to 2009:
The content which obviously cannot be avoided was about exciting as Irish history. That being: the English kicked them around, things got a little better, then they got kicked around some more, then they lived a little more happily in poverty, then there was black 47. Except in this section, after the initial architecture of the ball it was: hitters were complaining that the ball was dead, then they made livelier balls, then the pitchers complained about that, then they conducted some tests, then not much evidence showed up on the tests, and the last three steps repeated for about 100 years. Did I mention this section lasts for 62 pages? Had I been the author I think I would have merged this with various other sections but that’s just me. My advice to any reader is to read around it in some way shape or form. Either read it before or after the rest of the book and segment it so you don’t have to read it all at once. It definitely accomplishes the goal of being a history of the baseball’s evolution but might be best served as a reference when information is needed, as it might be tough for the more ADD readers ( I normally pay very good attention for long periods of time and still struggled sticking with this section).
The next section was based on the actual construction of the ball and is taken mostly from Hample’s trip to the Rawlings Baseball Factory in Costa Rica. The chapter goes from how to deconstruct a baseball( which is awesome if you ever get the chance to do it. Though I would not use nail clippers but an object similar to an awl to get the stitches off as they were too deep for me to get with the clippers) to the process to what commemorative baseballs are and how they are made. This is a great section, very informative with pictures to explain most things that a person would have questions about.
We are now on chapter 8 of 12 and the last of chapters on the baseball itself. This chapter is about how the balls are kept so that they are in prime playing condition at game time. This starts with the story behind the creation of now commonly used Lena Blackburne mud that helps pitchers grip the baseball.It then goes on to explain how teams started keeping balls in temperature and humidity controlled rooms starting when the Rockies used a humidor to counteract the arid nature of Coors Field.
Now ow ow the moment you have all been waiting for or or (well most of you anyway), How To Snag Major League Baseballs alls alls. Even though the rest of the book was great, this seemed to flow with a little more life than the previous two. First, this part has its own introduction.
The section starts off with chapter nine, the pre-game preparation. This was a great tutorial in what to do before you get in covering all the basics it ranged from how to choose a game to what to do when you arrived at the stadium.
He then goes on to explain the intricacies of the most important snagging time, batting practice. This was a bit more descriptive than the original namesake of part three. For example, when I started going early to batting practice I was hung up on the idea of hitters from both sides of the plate being able to hit the ball to me and so I stood in foul ground. A strategy I learned was almost completely wrong and should only be used on occasion when the situation demands it. You will have no problem if you have gone to batting practice but for the more inexperienced ballhawks there are technical problems such as the failure to mention that most rails block you from moving to a specific side if you are not standing in a place where there is a gap like here:
The next chapter is the toughest to put into practice, getting a player to toss you a ball. This is because the form in which you get different players to toss you a ball can vary so much from player to player. What I do like is that he does not write an aggressive strategy but one more along the lines of “it caint huit” or ” it can’t hurt” for those who don’t speak Brooklyn. He wrote the strategies that will always put you in more favor with the players and don’t have the possiblity of a backfire (although if you change hats right in front of players from either team “it caint heylp”). I guarantee that if you follow these instructions you will get at least one baseball for every two games you go to ( and I say this reluctantly because that is an average of .5 balls per game, meaning that my skill only accounted for 2 balls a game which is pretty sad).
Finally, most casual fans don’t care about bp balls. They don’t mean anything. A game homer(or foul)’s where it’s at. In this chapter Hample goes from what the real odds are for catching a foul ball to how long NYC security guards will kick you out after the game. This section goes into great depth because great depth is required. It is well written but I am surprised he didn’t have any fun with his home runs celebrations given the informal atmosphere of the book:
The last chapter was, at least for me, the best chapter of the whole book. It was a chapter going from the top 10 ballhawks of all time to how to document your collection. I found this chapter to be more informative of the whole book. The interviews with the ballhawks were fantastic because I knew of them but did not know them as a person. For example, I found out that I share a birthday with Minnesota’s best ballhawk, Greg Dryden. I know that the 10 best ballparks section will help me get a few extra baseballs at the respective stadiums.
All in all, like I told the author yesterday, this is one of my favorite books top 5 if not higher. The book was great and I would recommend the book to any mildly interested in baseball.
If you want to buy it, the paperback is $14.95 discounted on Amazon and Ebay though ( I don’t think I have a Canadian following) and is available in most bookstores. Hope you enjoyed and find the review useful.