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Every Ball Helps!

The 2011 Major League Baseball season is now officially underway, so I would like to get this off my chest now before going further . . .

My Diamondbacks won their season opener, beating the Colorado Rockies 7-6 in 11 innings!

On the whole they’re not expected to fare much better this season than last, but Opening Day is sorta special, so I was excited to see them get off to a good start.

Back to the true reason for this post . . .

Zack Hample is ballhawking for a charitable organization (no, not the Democratic Party) called Pitch In For Baseball, and yes, they’re completely legit.

Depending on where you grew up you may have participated in Read-a-thons as a child, or pledge walks. In such cases you would get people to pledge a certain amount of money for each book you read or mile you walked. Zack is doing something similar but with baseballs.

PIFB provides baseball equipment to underprivileged children the world over. Take a minute or two and read about what he’s doing.

I am pledging .10 for each baseball he gets this season. Based upon his productivity the last two years that’s going to result in a pledge—for the whole season—of probably less than $60.

You can pledge a penny per ball if you like.

It’s super easy to participate. Do please give it a look and consider participating. Zack would thank you as would all those kids who will receive gear so they can enjoy our national pastime, too.

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Things you don’t typically expect in life:
• To win the lottery
• To get struck my lightning
• To hear your doctor say “woops . . . my bad!”
• To pick the curtain that has the new car behind it (instead you find you have a knack for locating goats)
• To have an author write you back

Now I can cross that last one off my list.

Zack Hample and his pyramid of baseballs

Zack Hample and his pyramid of baseballs

If you ready my review of The Baseball : Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Seams then you may recognize the name Zack Hample — if you didn’t read it, shame on you. Most of my book reviews are done for the New York Journal of Books; the way I see it I get to read books for free, books that I think look intriguing or which suit my interests, and all I have to do is write a review.

I never expect to hear from the author of the book.

Mr. Hample wrote to NYJB initially, looking for a copy of the review to place on his site zackhample.com:

I recently wrote a book called The Baseball, and you guys wrote THE best review about it that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

So, first of all, thanks for that.

Secondly, I’m wondering if there’s an actual print version of your publication or if all your content is strictly online. Forgive my ignorance, but if this book review did appear as a hard copy, I would love to get a hold of it, so please tell me what I need to do.

Here’s a link to the review.

Thanks again.

-Zack

I got this e-mail forwarded to me by one of the folks at NYJB. As you might expect it was almost an out-of-body experience. How cool is that! The least I could do is write him back directly, which I did a few minutes later. He posted that on his site under Fan Mail. You can see it here, it’s the one dated March 24, 2011 and starts with “Friggin’ sweet!”.

Here is this author, taking his time to write about his appreciation for the review. That was pretty awesome if you’re standing in my shoes. But then he replies to the e-mail I sent him (you’ll have to read my e-mail first though from the link above):

Friggin’ SWEET back at you. Thanks for getting in touch, and screw the formalities.

I showed your review to my mom and to a few writer-friends, and they all basically said the same thing — that they couldn’t have said nicer things about my book if they tried. (Nor could any of them have written the review better or with such clarity and appreciation and passion. I mean…damn. You nailed it. It was such a positive review that I’m almost embarrassed. Almost.)

I’m wondering if I could post your email on my site, or at least part of it. Ideally, I’d love to include the whole thing from the “Friggin'” at the top to your name at the bottom. Not only was your review the best review of all time, but your follow-up email might just be the best email as well.

So…let me know, and thanks again. Oh, and if you still have your review copy (or if you get another), I’d be happy to sign it for you if you mail it to me.

-Zack

I don’t know if he butters up his other correspondents or reviewers like this, but I don’t care. The guy loves baseball, he wrote a book about it, and he took the time to write to me. Christmas came early for J.W. this year ;^)

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The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the StitchesWhat’s red, round, and dirty when it’s brand new? Would you believe . . . a major league baseball? You might think it’s white, right? That’s just one of the things you’ll learn in this completely engaging book about the object our national pastime is named after: The Baseball – Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches.

Hample declares his book to be “a celebration of the ball” and fans of the game, and honestly, you would be hard-pressed to disagree with that assessment.

From the outset The Baseball just feels fun. It’s intriguing, informative, and most of all flat out enjoyable. Much has been written about most every other aspect of the game, but rarely have I seen the hardball so deftly front and center as Hample places it here. The introduction dances like a fly lure that’s jerked and teased upon the water, with lots of did-you-know items tossed in—yet it has a decidedly human feel to it, almost the same unmistakable feeling one gets as you walk into your favorite stadium and see the ball field below you, yawning, grand, and welcoming.

Ever wonder what the first baseballs were made of? What about (like me) how they’re made? As presented, the history of the ball is fascinating, from its humble beginnings to its decades long flux in composition (juice, anyone?); not only do we get to learn how to (gasp!) dismantle a ball, but we are also given an insiders tour of the Rawlings baseball factory in Costa Rica.

One of my favorite bits of ball-related trivia: It takes approximately 20,000 cows to provide the hides for the estimated 1.26 million baseballs used each season in the majors—go ahead, re-read that; I was amazed too. The first thought that popped in my head when I read that was “somebody is sure to raise a stink about that.” But Hample, in his own tongue-in-cheek manner, calls this ball as it crosses right over the plate:

“Let’s get something straight: cows are not killed to make baseballs. They’re killed because people like to eat them . . .”

No painted corners there—he serves it right down Broadway.

Watch or go to any baseball game these days—minor or major league—and you’d think the teams have always given away balls, but the truth is a foul ball wasn’t always a souvenir for a lucky fan; club owners saw things differently. Catching a foul ball during a game is an act most of us quietly hope for each time we pass through the turnstiles. One of the bonuses in this book is the ample section revealing the author’s best tips for tipping the odds of catching a ball in your favor. Even the casual fan will likely find this part interesting, and certainly useful if inclined to take up “ballhawking.”

For my money the first half of the book is the best. I eagerly turned page after page of stories about the evolution of foul balls, anecdotes regarding publicity stunts, and two unforgettable stories recounting grimace-inducing injury and the only death in major league history. Hample delivers all of this as if he’s sitting in the seat next to you, sharing it during the passage of a few innings. I wanted more, but I suppose that plays into his marketing plan for his other book about watching the game; guess I’ll be reading that one too.

Hample captures the essence of the game, and of the book’s namesake, with the purity and enthusiasm of every little boy who ever played Little League ball. His spirit is playful and sometimes funny, but always respectful of the game he clearly holds dear.

From worn shoe leather, to horsehide, to the staggering number of Holstein hides needed to cover this venerable sphere—even the stitch patterns and their differing colors—Hample walks us, good naturedly, from yesteryear to current day, from games played with a single ball to storing them in a humidor—just about everything you can imagine in-between awaits the curious and fanatical between the covers.

As always I thank Rhonda Sturtz and the New York Journal of Books for procuring a copy of this book for review. Thanks also to Anchor Books for the review copy.

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