This is a great book to read while waiting for Opening Day to arrive. It’s just the sort of book that can whet the appetite for the baseball season to begin.
Zack Hample is a master ballhawk. A ballhawk, by definition, is someone who is an expert at chasing down baseballs at major league baseball games (and even some spring training games). In The Baseball, Hample gives us a great look at that little white ball that we all obsess so much over. This is not a book about baseball, the game. This is a book about THE baseball.
Part One gives us a glimpse of baseballs in the news, from the souvenir craze to people who have actually been killed either by baseballs, or in the chase for them. (Fortunately, that last chapter is relatively small.) There are World Series balls, Barry Bonds home runs, Hank Aaron home runs, Sammy Sosa home runs, foul balls, various stunts by players and others, and even a chapter on “Foul Balls in Pop Culture.” Unfortunately, there is a picture of Justin Bieber in that chapter.
Part Two gives us some history, with a great chapter on the evolution of the baseball, from 1847 to 2011. The interesting thing about that chapter is that there have always been controversies about the hotness of the ball, with allegations that the ball is juiced in some eras. The ball manufacturers swear that the ball has been made the same for a long time, now, with no specific changes that would make the ball hotter or less so. There is a great chapter on Rawlings and how the ball is made, followed by one about how they are stored and prepared for games, including a part about the infamous “Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud.” Yes, for those who are not aware, mud is rubbed onto the surface of every single baseball used in MLB play. But not just any mud. It is secret mud, from a secret location, somewhere in New Jersey.
Finally, in Part Three, Mr. Hamble gives us some tips on how to snag baseballs, from the master, himself. There are tips about various ballparks, along with some etiquette, what to do, what not to do, what you can get away with, how to talk to the players to convince them to give you a ball, and so on. He lists his favorite ballparks for getting balls (and our local Rangers Ballpark is one of his top ten). He gives a rundown of the top 10 ballhawks that he knows about.
Bottom line is that this is just a fun book about the baseball. I learned a lot, as I read it, and I was entertained by it, as well. Hample’s writing style is fun, even when describing the lengthy history of the baseball and its evolution.
I recommend this book for any true fan of the game.