Monday, June 22, 2015

The face looks familiar (Alex Rodriguez's home run)

I tuned into the Yankee game on Friday just as Alex Rodriguez was coming to bat, looking for his 3,000th hit. Timing is everything: ARod launched a home run for the milestone. It was the third time a player hit a home run for the magic number, including former teammate Derek Jeter.

The difference is that the fellow who caught Jeter’s home run gave it back with no reservations. He was rewarded with some Yankee merch and tickets for the rest of the season. Sounds nice, but he had to bear the burden of the taxes on the “gift.”

As the cameras focused on the fan who caught Rodriguez’s shot, I thought. “Gee that guy looks familiar.” The next day I learned I was right: it was professional ball-hawk Zack Hample, whom I interviewed for NJ Jewish News in 2007.


Fan_who_caught_Alex_Rodriguez_s_3,000th_hit_not_planning_to_return_to_New_York_Yankees_player_-_2015-06-22_10.55.02So Hample is in the spotlight right now, making the rounds on sports and news shows, discussing his decision to keep the ball. Some people are okay with that, while others have been critical about his “aggressive” methods in securing the memento. (I guess Eddie Fastook was unable to convince Hample to give it up.)

Hample has made a semi-career out of being in the right place at the right time. He’s written several baseball books, including How to Snag Major League Baseballs: More Than 100 Tested Tips That Really Work; The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches; and Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks.

I normally put up a post every Friday about the top-10 baseball best-sellers. Had a hunch, and sure enough, his Watching title is in the top 20 for baseball books.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Zack.

The face looks familiar (Alex Rodriguez's home run)

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bookshelf Conversation: Rob Fitts

Books have been written about the use of baseball as an imperialist tool by the United States. We send people to foreign countries; they bring baseball with them, and pretty soon the residents of those foreign have embraced the game to a degree even more enthusiastic than back in the good ole U.S.A.

Case in point: Japan. Many fine books have been written about how the game took root in the Land of the Rising Sun, how fans there are so much more enthusiastic than America fans, with organized cheering and other customs.

Rob Fitts, a former archeologist who holds a PhD in anthropology from Brown, developed an affinity for the Japanese game to the point that he now has three books on the subject under his belt. His first, Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, published in 2008 (that’s the author with his subject in the photo below), was followed by Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan which won SABR’s 2013 Seymour Medal for Best Baseball Book of 2012, as well as other critical recognition. In this video, he speaks about Moe Berg’s involvement in that tour. year, Fitts has published Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer, a fascinating look at the man who opened the door for his fellow countrymen to see if their skills could offer them a career over here (albeit it took almost 30 years for the next Japanese player — Hideo Nomo — to sign with a Major League team).

Fitts will be appearing at several events with Murakami in the U.S. in the near future, including the SABR National Convention in Chicago (June 28), the Royal Rooters Club at Fenway Park in Boston (June 29), Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (June 30), and the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse (July 1). For more details, click here.

“Show notes”: In the conversation, we discuss the book Sayonara Home Run!: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card, by John Gall and Gary Engel. I included that title in a 2006 feature on baseball titles for

The Bookshelf Conversation: Rob Fitts