Frequently (and infrequently) asked questions
|Why is your website so ugly?
Look, I know it sucks, okay? Can we talk about something else?
I'm going to a game at _______ Stadium next week. Can you give me some tips?
Absolutely! I've written detailed blog entries about every current major league stadium, and I've done a bunch of instructional "ballhawking" videos, which you can find on my YouTube channel. There are countless tips, tricks, and strategies, so check those out. I've also written a book called The Baseball, which has a HUGE section called "How To Snag Major League Baseballs." Sorry but I get too many emails to retype specific tips to everyone.
When are you coming to the Rogers Centre? How about Target Field? Coming back to Chicago this season? When are you doing a video in Tampa? Are you gonna be at Citi Field anytime soon? Can you come to Fenway Park on September 14th and visit me in the bleachers section number 37 row 8? Can you let me know when you'll be back in Milwaukee?
Thanks for asking. I don't usually plan my trips too far in advance, and even when I do make plans, things can change at the last minute. Sometimes I announce my games/dates on Twitter (@zack_hample). Other times, for a variety of reasons, I prefer not to tell anyone where I'm going to be.
When's your next video coming out?
During the season, I hope to post one or two videos per week. During the off-season, who knows? My videographer handles all the editing, so it's based on his schedule.
Who's your videographer?
I've used a few, but my main guy is named Brandon Sloter. He's from San Diego. He's basically like my little brother and annoys the hell out of me, but he does great work, so I put up with him (and I pay him, so he puts up with me). In case you care, here's a blog entry about the game when we met for the first time.
Can I have a baseball?
As a general rule, I don't give baseballs to people who ask for them. I get so many requests that I've decided not to send any out. I do, however, give lots of baseballs to kids at games, and I also donate balls directly to the charity Pitch In For Baseball. Sorry but I hope you understand.
Can I have your autograph?
Sure, I'd be happy to sign something for you. Mail the item with a self-addressed stamped envelope to the following address:
Argosy Book Store
c/o Zack Hample
116 East 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
Who's your favorite team?
I don't have one. I just love the sport and mainly root for individual players.
Who are your favorite players?
Cal Ripken Jr. is my all-time favorite. I loved Heath Bell because he was incredibly nice to me, and I rooted bigtime for Tony Womack because he and I attended the same small college. I have a thing for numbers, so I like guys who consistently put up amazing stats (without using steroids): Wade Boggs, Frank Thomas, and Albert Pujols in their primes; Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and Craig Kimbrel these days. I loved Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Ichiro Suzuki and Greg Maddux rank high on my list. I liked Jeremy Guthrie because he was such a cool dude, and I'm pulling for a guy named Alex Katz because we're friends and he's in the minor leagues.
How many stadiums have you been to?
Fifty-two different major league stadiums, including 22 that no longer exist, or which aren't typically used for Major League Baseball. Remember when MLB opened the 2014 season at the Sydney Cricket Ground? Or in 2012 at the Tokyo Dome? I was there. I figure that if the wins and losses count for the teams and the stats count for the players, then I can add those venues to my stadiums list.
What's your job? How do you afford to travel to all these games?
The quick answer is that I make money in various ways and have a flexible schedule. The longer answer is that I work on an hourly basis at an old book store, doing specialized work with autographed material, so I can be there as much (in the winter) or as little (during the baseball season) as I want. I also earn royalties from a book I wrote called Watching Baseball Smarter, and I'm finally starting to make some money from my YouTube videos. In addition to that, I get paid, on occasion, to be on TV, give speeches, and take people to baseball games.
How did you get into catching baseballs?
When I first started watching games on TV, I noticed how excited people got whenever they caught foul balls. I was young and impressionable, so of course I wanted to catch one too. I attended my first game when I was six, but didn't snag my first ball until I was 12, and even then it was just a batting practice ball that was tossed by a player -- definitely exciting, but not the real deal, so I wanted to keep trying. I ended up snagging four practice balls in 1990 and 14 more in 1991. The following season, after I'd already been riding the subway to and from school by myself for two years, my parents reluctantly gave me permission to go to games on my own. That's when my collection took off. I attended 80 games in 1992 and snagged 128 balls that year alone.
Have you ever caught a historic ball?
Yes. The biggest one was Alex Rodriguez's 3,000th career hit (a home run on 6/19/15 at Yankee Stadium), although I didn't actually "catch" it. I picked it up off the ground. Prior to that, my three biggest catches were Mike Trout's first major league homer on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, Barry Bonds' 724th career homer on 8/16/06 at PETCO Park, and the final Mets home run (thank you, Carlos Beltran) ever hit at Shea Stadium on 9/28/08. I also caught Derek Jeter's 3,262nd career hit (a homer in the bottom of the 9th inning on 8/27/12 at Yankee Stadium), and in 2004, I snagged the ball that Mariano Rivera pitched to complete his 313th career save -- random, I know.
What did you do with these balls?
I gave back the A-Rod ball in exchange for the Yankees making a $150,000 donation to my favorite children's baseball charity and hooking me up with a whole bunch of stuff. I gave back the Trout ball -- no questions asked except to actually be the person to hand it to him after the game. (Security didn't want to let me. They said it was get-away day and that the Angels had to catch a bus to the airport. I was like, "Okay, fine, in that case, I'll just keep the ball," and whaddaya know, the bus was somehow able to leave two minutes later.) I still have all the others. Despite what the Washington Nationals would like you to believe, I've never sold a ball.
Why didn't you sell any of these balls?
It was tempting to send the A-Rod ball to auction, but I realized that no matter how much it could have realistically sold for, I still wouldn't have been able to retire and live a life of leisure. New York City is expensive.
What did the Yankees give you for the A-Rod ball?
When I first snagged it and met with the head of security, I was told that if I gave it back, I could meet A-Rod, have my own press conference, be interviewed on the YES Network during a game, receive all kinds of free tickets, and get lots of memorabilia including signed balls and bats and jerseys. I really wasn't interested in all of that until I met later on with Randy Levine (the president of the Yankees) and Lonn Trost (the team's Chief Operating Officer) and they offered to make a sizable donation to the charity. As it turned out, in addition to the donation, they gave me all the things that had been offered to me in the first place, along with some other stuff I requested, for example a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium.
How much is your whole collection worth?
It's not for sale, and I have no idea. If you wanted to buy an official major league ball from a store, it'd cost anywhere from $15 to $25. Would you pay more for one of mine because it was used? Or would you pay less for the same reason? How about all those commemorative balls that I've snagged? How much are those worth? $30 apiece? $100 apiece? More? Less? Game-used Jeter balls were selling online for $500, and I snagged nine of them in September of 2014, but did I mention that my collection isn't for sale?
Do you label your balls? How do you know which is which?
I didn't label my first 2,000 balls, but then I labeled the next 2,000 after that. As soon as I caught a ball, I wrote the number on it, and I kept a log on my computer with the corresponding details. For example, when I caught my 2,500th ball, I wrote a small "2500" on it and typed the following into my log when I got home: "2500: 6/7/05, Shea Stadium, tunnel/aisle between Loge sections 4/6, bottom of the 4th, no outs, 1-2 count, foul ball hit by Marlon Anderson off Roy Oswalt, caught it on the fly, 82nd gamer, oh baby." I still update the log, but I've pretty much stopped labeling the balls. It's too much of a hassle, and I like to keep the balls in their original condition.
How many balls are you up to now?
More than 9,000. Check out my lists (especially the one called yearly totals) for all the updated stats.
Are you in the Guinness Book of World Records?
I wish. The people at Guinness expressed interest at one point, but they ended up making it nearly impossible for me to prove that my collection is legit. One of their policies states that anything sent to them becomes their property, meaning they would own the rights. I would love to send them a copy of my first book, but not under those circumstances. Same goes for my TV interviews, but the networks won't allow it. It's extremely frustrating.
But you do have the record, right?
It's complicated, but yeah, I do. There's a guy in San Francisco who once claimed to have snagged more than 7,000 balls, but everyone who knows him says he's full of shit. If you ask to see his baseballs, he'll tell you that he's sold most of them or given them away, and if you ask to see his stats, he'll tell you that he hasn't kept an exact count. There are also a handful of guys who've snagged 3,000 to 5,000 balls, but most of their collections include balls from Spring Training and the Minor Leagues. Mine doesn't. But I count balls that are thrown to me -- something that the old-school "ballhawks" frown upon. In terms of snagging baseballs at major league stadiums and being able to prove it, I've snagged more than anyone.
Have you ever tried to get balls at minor league stadiums?
Yeah, a few times, but I never counted it in my stats.
Who are the best players that have thrown balls to you?
Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Ozzie Smith, Ichiro Suzuki, and Mike Trout to name a few. Here's the complete list.
What's the most balls you ever snagged at one game?
My record is 36, and it happened on 9/14/11 at Great American Ball Park. Prior to that, my personal best was 32 balls on 6/18/09 at Kauffman Stadium. Those are the only two times I've gotten more than 30.
How did you carry all those balls?
In a backpack. The day I snagged 36, I gave 11 of them away (mostly to random kids) by the end of the night.
What's your record for balls during an actual game?
On four separate occasions, I've snagged three foul balls during a single game, most recently on 5/12/11 at Camden Yards. I've also snagged two home runs during one game on four separate occasions, most recently on 5/12/16 at Yankee Stadium.
How are you so lucky?
To quote Branch Rickey, "Luck is the residue of design."
Do you get a ball at every game?
Yeah, pretty much. The last time I went to a game and didn't snag at least one was September 2, 1993. My streak reached 1,000 consecutive games on 6/24/14 at Citi Field.
Where do you keep your balls?
They're mostly in storage near my apartment in New York City. I have five filing drawers filled with 144 balls apiece, more than a dozen 32-gallon barrels each with 400, two 50-gallon bins each with 600, and more balls scattered in other places. Here's what the storage space looks like.
What does your mom think?
My parents thought it was cute until 1992, worrisome through '98, and fantastic once my first book came out in '99. My mom still digs it as a hobby, but she's sick of the actual baseballs themselves. (Confession: I still keep some at her place.)
Did you ever have a goal? Do you have one now?
My original goal was to get one ball. Early in 1992, I decided I'd go for 100 (everyone laughed), and three months later, I changed my goal to 1,000. In 2005 I jokingly started comparing my ball total to the all-time hits list, and I passed Pete Rose four years later. At this point, I'm going for 10,000, but I'm starting to think more about quality than quantity. I want to snag 100 game home runs. I'm hoping to catch more milestone home runs (such as a player's 500th career homer), and I'd also love to catch a World Series homer. And an All-Star Game homer. Another goal is to do a YouTube video in every stadium, so that's why I've been traveling so much lately.
Did you ever think your collection would turn into such a big thing?
Not at all. It's just something I started doing (and still do) for fun, though I must admit that the attention has been pretty cool.
Do random people recognize you out in public?
You mean in random places, like out on the street or in restaurants or whatever? Yeah, on occasion. At major league stadiums, I'd say I get recognized about 50 times per day. It's pretty crazy.
Do you get nervous being on TV?
Not anymore. Like most things, if you do it enough, you get used to it.
What's the best interview you've ever done?
Probably NPR. They've had me on a bunch of times, and it's always been great. The hosts are genuinely interested in what I say. The interviews aren't rushed. We cover interesting topics, and sometimes I take questions from callers. After snagging the A-Rod ball, I did a live interview on "SportsCenter" that lasted several minutes. I had only gotten two hours of sleep the night before and had bags under my eyes, but that interview still ranks at the top of all my media experiences.
What was your worst interview?
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. That guy is a certifiable asshole. I understand that it was late-night television, but he went way too far. When I was pre-interviewed by the segment producer, she asked if there was anything in particular that I wanted to discuss on the air, and I said, "Yes, if there's only ONE thing I get to talk about, I really want it to be my charity fundraiser," and she was like, "No problem, I'll make sure that Conan asks you about it." Well, not only *didn't* Conan ask me about it, but when I tried to mention it, he cut me off twice, and when I finally forced it into the conversation, he made fun of me and succeeded in making me look like a schmuck. I'm still pissed at him, but I'm even angrier at myself for stooping to his level. It was bad.
What's the deal with the charity?
Since 2009 I've been encouraging people to pledge money for the baseballs that I snag at major league games. The money goes to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Including the money that the Yankees donated for the A-Rod ball, I've raised more than $190,000. Here's some more info. I would be thrilled if you'd make a donation.
Are you ever going to stop collecting?
Probably not, but who knows?
Can I go to a game with you?
So many people have asked that I turned it into a business in 2007. It's called Watch With Zack, and if you join me for a game, I guarantee you'll get a ball.
How do you guarantee that?
Because I'm the man.
Can I go to a game with you for free?
Yes, if you're a great friend, a full-time member of the media, or my mom.
Have you ever gotten into a fight for a ball?
I did once get assaulted at Yankee Stadium by a seriously deranged man, but other than that, my experience with other fans is overwhelmingly positive.
Do you knock over little kids?
No, no, and no. I've never knocked over anyone. I'm extremely careful and aware of my surroundings. The most aggressive fans are often the ones who've never caught a ball. They'll often do "whatever it takes" to get one because they see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Anyone claiming I knock people down is flat-out lying. Come watch me chase baseballs for five minutes or for the next five years. You won't see me knock anyone down because it's simply not part of my game. It's not who I am or what I do.
Do you steal balls from kids?
I'll admit that when I was a kid myself, I used to reach in front of people for balls. I'm ashamed that I acted that way, but I learned from my mistakes. Now, as I mentioned, I give lots of balls away and teach people how to snag balls for themselves.
What do you do with the balls that you keep?
Uhh . . . I keep them. They make me happy. Is that weird? I don't sleep with them or take them out to Central Park and play with them, if that's what you mean.
Does your ball total indicate how many you've caught or how many you actually own?
The former. I think that's the more important number.
Do you trade or buy balls?
No. I'm only interested in owning balls that I've caught.
Do you actually enjoy watching baseball or do you only care about catching balls?
I absolutely love the sport. I watch games on TV all the time, and even though I don't play fantasy baseball, I read all the box scores every day because I care so much about how every player and team is doing. When I'm at games, going for baseballs helps me stay focused. It's the same reason that some people like to keep score, but I get more exercise. I do sometimes miss a bit of the action by running around, but that doesn't mean I don't care.
Why don't you play fantasy baseball?
I don't want an abstract game to dictate who I should root for in real life. Also, I have plenty of other ways to keep myself entertained.
Do you follow any sports other than baseball?
No, unless LeBron is playing in the Finals.
Because I don't care.
What's your favorite stadium?
Favorite in terms of what, beauty? Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, and PNC Park. In terms of how fun and easy it is to snag baseballs? Camden Yards, Rangers Ballpark, Turner Field, and Great American Ball Park.
Do you have season tickets?
Yes, at Yankee Stadium, but I don't attend every game there. Sometimes I have other plans or I just need a break.
Do you collect autographs?
I used to, but not with the same level of intensity that some people do it. I never hung out at the hotels or anything like that. In all the years that I've been going to games, I've collected about 1,500 autographs, mostly on ticket stubs from the 1990s.
I never wanted to get my baseballs signed. I thought they should stay in their original condition, which is why I never played with them. Tickets are small and portable and different.
So you don't have any signed balls?
I do, but only seven of them are balls that I caught. I got my 1,000th, 2,000th, 4,000th, 5,000th, 6,000th, 7,000th, and 8,000th balls signed by the players who threw or hit them to me, and I got three other signed balls without trying. I once caught one at Shea Stadium that was already signed by Rockies shortstop Omar Quintanilla. Another time I snagged a pre-signed ball from Mark McGwire, and then there was the infamous CBS incident. While working as a production assistant, I lent a ball to the network for a segment with Charlie Sheen. It was returned with his autograph. I thanked him for it on his way out, he waved me over and asked a bunch of questions about my collection, and I got fired for "talking to the celebrities." Screw everything about that.
How come you didn't get your 3,000th or 9,000th balls signed?
No. 3,000 wasn't thrown by anyone, and I'm not sure who hit it. The ball rolled onto the warning track during batting practice at the old Yankee Stadium, and I retrieved it with my glove trick. I'm hoping to get No. 9,000 signed someday by Joc Pederson.
What are some of your best autographs?
Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, the entire 1986 Mets team on a ball, and Jose Reyes on three different ticket stubs from his cycle on 6/21/06 at Shea Stadium. I don't know. Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Jim Palmer, Lou Brock, Hank Aaron, etc.
What other stuff do you collect?
Baseball stuff? I have about 100,000 cards from back in the day, plus I've gotten some bonus items at games over the years including lineup cards, batting gloves, hats, bats, and wrist bands. As for non-baseball items, I had all kinds of collections as a kid. The three biggest were coins, business cards, and mix tapes -- nothing worth bragging about, though. I'd collect books if I had more shelf space, and I'd read them all if I had more time.
What are your favorite books?
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Native Son, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Born to Run, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Fixer, Slaughterhouse-Five, New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons, Word Freak, Little Prince, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Portnoy's Complaint, Ball Four, Shoeless Joe, Moneyball, Maus, Phantom Tollbooth, Ethical Slut, Arcade Fever, All the Sincerity in Hollywood, The Ball, Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia, Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, The Meaning of Tingo, Lolita, There's Nothing Normal About Us (which incredibly remains unpublished), The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, Tuesdays With Morrie, Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Nobody and the Umbrella Bug, Elements of Style, Where the Wild Things Are, How to Die in Paris, A Light in the Attic, Limericks, The Silly Book, The Bad Guys Won, Kitchen Confidential, The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said, and my high school senior yearbook.
Hey, isn't The Silly Book your dad's book?
Yes indeed. I snuck a few of his other titles in there as well. His name was Stuart Hample. Check out his page on Wikipedia.
What are your best baseball cards?
I have a Ty Cobb from 1909, a Dizzy Dean from '34, a Mickey Mantle from '59, and various rookie cards of guys like Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount, George Brett, Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers, etc.
Where did you go to school growing up?
I went to Collegiate (which sucked) from 1st through 6th grade, Friends Seminary (which I hated) from 7th through 9th grade, and finished up at Columbia Prep (which was eh).
Are you always this negative?
Where did you go to college?
I went to a small Quaker school in North Carolina called Guilford (which was pretty damn fun).
Are you a Quaker?
No, but Quakers are cool. They think violence is dumb, they don't believe in a hierarchy of power, they make decisions by consensus, and most importantly, they don't shove their religion in anyone's face.
Why North Carolina?
I was looking for a small, liberal arts school with a gorgeous campus, friendly people, a Division III baseball program, and warmer weather. Guilford had it all and happened to be in Greensboro.
Did you play baseball?
I played my whole life right up into college and through my freshman year.
How come you stopped playing?
On a personal level, I didn't get along with many of teammates, and I didn't want to be around them. There was a bit too much homophobia and hostility, ya know? On a more practical level, it's tough to play a varsity sport in college *and* have a life. There were Saturdays when the team left campus at 4:30am to play a doubleheader in Virginia, and we didn't get back until midnight -- all that for sitting on the bench and maybe, if I got lucky, getting to pinch-hit at the tail end of a blowout? I think not.
So, you weren't that good?
Not in the grand scheme of things, but I'd like you to know that I finished my college career with a .429 batting average (6-for-14). Thank you.
How come you only got 14 at-bats if you hit so well?
Upper classmen generally got more playing time even if they weren't the best players.
What position did you play?
Third base and scoreboard operator (and team scapegoat). Before college I was a starting shortstop and usually batted third or fourth, so it was tough to suddenly be invisible on the team.
Did you play any other sports?
At Guilford? No, unless you count that one-credit racquetball class. I played basketball in 8th and 12th grade, did the track-and-field thing in 11th grade (for no other purpose than to lose weight), and played some serious tennis as a kid. I also skied and played ping pong and soccer and a bunch of other sports.
How much weight did you lose?
Not much, but it had to be done. I remember stepping on a scale (for the first time in months) on Thanksgiving when I was 16 years old and being horrified to discover that I weighed 205 pounds. Four months later I was down to 180, and now I'm holding steady at about 160.
How often do you work out?
I've never belonged to a gym, but I do my own little exercise routine at home and stay active in general.
Can you be more specific about your routine? What exactly do you do?
Crunches every day. Pushups and light weights every other day (or sometimes every third or fourth day if I'm busy). That's it. Very little cardio. A big reason that I'm fit is that I only drink water. I've never even tasted Coke or Pepsi.
You've never had soda?!
I didn't say that. I've had a few sips of soda; I just haven't ever tried those two kinds. Basically, I wasn't allowed to drink soda when I was little. When I was four years old, I went on a picnic with my best friend and his parents, and I had a sip of 7-UP. I hated the carbonation and never really wanted soda after that.
What about alcohol?
I've never been drunk. I don't like the taste of alcohol (though I'll get down with an amaretto sour on occasion). I don't like how much it costs. I don't like what it does to people. I don't like the idea of relying on a substance in order to have a good time. I don't need the sugar or calories. Blah blah. I'm not here to preach about not drinking. It just doesn't appeal to me. I've never smoked a cigarette either.
Do you smoke weed?
How did you get into competitive Scrabble?
I got pretty good as a kid just by playing with my family and friends. In 1997 I discovered the New York City club, and later that year I started my own club in college. I became a member of the National Scrabble Association, memorized every two- and three-letter word, played in a bunch of local tournaments, and started working at national championships.
Are you ranked?
The Scrabble world uses a rating system instead of simply ranking people 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. The worst possible rating (for someone who plays in one tourney and loses every game) is 500. The few best players in the world are rated about 2000, and the cutoff for "expert" status is 1600. My rating is 1545, though my skills are a bit rusty now. At one point, I had the 479th highest rating in North America, whatever that means.
What's your average score?
Against rated players, about 350 to 375 points per game. Against non-rated players? I don't know, maybe 425 to 450.
What was your best game?
I've scored over 600 several times against some real chumps, so in this case, my definition of "best" has to be the time when I got extremely lucky and beat Joel Sherman at the NYC club. It was 1998, and he was still the reigning world champion from the previous year's tournament. Permanent bragging rights! Of course, he's kicked my ass half a dozen times since then.
What's your highest score for one word?
I once played "QUAGGIER" through a letter already on the board for 194 points. (Quaggy means marshy, BTW.) The word hit two Triple Word Scores, so my points were tripled and then re-tripled, and on top of that, I got the 50-point bonus for using all seven of my tiles at once.
Did you ace the verbal section on the SATs?
I got a 430 on the verbals (out of 800) and a 940 overall (out of 1,600), so no. I was the only kid in my 11th grade class who didn't take a prep course. I truly didn't care.
What's the story behind your rubber band ball?
I started it when I was four. Now it weighs much more than I do. Here's a detailed account of how it came to be, along with dozens of photos and a separate FAQ section.
Is it true that you have the world record on Arkanoid?
How do you know you have the record?
Twin Galaxies says so. It's like the Guinness Book of video game and pinball scores. Every year Twin Galaxies runs a four-day competition for classic arcade video games at a place called Funspot in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire. I've been to a few of these events, and I set the Arkanoid record in 2000.
What was your score?
It won't mean anything if you've never played the game, but my score was 1,658,110.
How long did it take?
About two hours.
How did you get so good at it?
I played it all the time as a kid and loved it so much that I bought my own Arkanoid machine in 1999.
How much d
$280 on eBay.
How did you arrange that whole helicopter stunt?
I have a friend who happens to be a test flight engineer for the FAA; he dealt with all the legal and logistical hurdles. I have another friend who's well-connected in Minor League Baseball; he put me in touch with a guy who works for the Lowell Spinners, who said I was welcome to attempt this stunt at the team's ballpark in Massachusetts. Beyond that it was just a matter of paying $450 an hour for the helicopter and a pilot.
How scary was it to try catch baseballs that were dropped from 1,000 feet?
The whole thing was surreal and incredibly fun. On a scale of 3 to 17, I'd say the fear factor was about 11 in the days leading up to the attempt, and about 6 once I actually started doing it. I'd heard (from two reputable sources) that the terminal velocity of a baseball is only 95 miles per hour. I'd also heard that the average pitch loses eight miles per hour from the time that the pitcher releases it until it reaches the catcher, so in terms of the force I'd be dealing with, I was effectively going to catch a 103mph fastball -- totally doable, but not the type of thing where you want to lose focus. I was mainly nervous about the ball possibly "knuckling" on the way down and therefore being nearly impossible to catch and possibly hitting me square in the face. I was well-protected with catcher's gear that had been donated by Rawlings (which I ended up donating to charity), but it occurred to me that if I were staring straight up at the sky and a ball hit me in the mask, it could snap my neck and paralyze or kill me. Breaking my hand was the least of my concerns, but thankfully the balls didn't knuckle.
What possessed you to attempt something like that?
When I was working on my last book and researching all the wacky and historical things that had ever happened with baseballs, I stumbled upon a bunch of old articles about players who attempted to catch balls that were dropped from great heights. The record, I discovered, belonged to a Hall-of-Fame catcher named Gabby Hartnett. Way back in 1930, he caught one that was dropped from a blimp 800 feet high, and basically, I thought, "Pffff, I could do that."
So, did you set the record?
Yes. It took several attempts, but eventually I caught one from a height of 1,050 feet.
You're a total douchebag attention whore.
That's not a question.
What other cool stuff did you get to do because of the book?
The single greatest thing was getting to visit the Rawlings baseball factory in Costa Rica. Other than that, I was given a tour of the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, I got to rub mud onto game balls with the Phillies' equipment manager, and when I visited Coors Field in 2009, I was invited to take a peek inside the Rockies' humidor. I also interviewed dozens of people and worked closely with the research director at the Hall of Fame. The whole process of writing a book is pretty cool.
I'm gonna be in Costa Rica in two months on a business trip, and I'm the biggest baseball fan ever (well, except for you, lol), and it's always been my dream to visit the factory, and I promise I won't take any photographs or write anything about it, and I'm even willing to make a contribution to the factory workers, so can you talk to your friends at Rawlings and ask them to show me around?
I was the first member of the media to set foot inside the factory in eight years. The previous one was working on a feature story for the Boston Globe; I was under contract to write a book for Random House. Quite simply, the factory is not open to the public. I was with two high-ranking Rawlings officials who'd flown in from Missouri to meet me, and they had to show their passports to a security guard just to get us into the factory's parking lot. Before I went, I had to sign confidentially paperwork involving agents and editors and lawyers. Rawlings has proprietary machinery that they don't want anyone to see. One of the top guys at MLB told Rawlings that it was okay to let me in, and it still took a YEAR from that point to actually make it happen and work out the logistics. People regularly ask me about visiting the factory (which is nice because it reinforces the fact that I got to do something special), but it's just not going to happen. Sorry.
Where can I buy your book?
You can order it from Amazon or from the Argosy Book Store or pick it up at any other store that sells new books.
How can I get an autographed copy?
If you order the book from the Argosy, I can sign it before it gets mailed out. Just call the store at 212-753-4455 and tell them to put the book aside for me. If you buy the book elsewhere, you can do two things: 1) Mail it to me at the Argosy with a self-addressed stamped envelope. 2) Bring it to a game and track me down, but please be aware that I might be busy running around for balls.
How did you get the book published?
After writing the first draft of my first book and then editing it like crazy, I put together a book proposal and found an agent. The agent then sent the manuscript to publishers, and after getting rejected a dozen times, I got two offers for it and went with Simon & Schuster. Years later I went through the same process with my second book -- rejections galore -- and ultimately picked Random House. That book did so well that they asked me to write another and gave me the money up front.
How much money did you get?
I've written a book. Can you put me in touch your agent?
No. She's extremely busy and has told me not to send anyone her way for any reason. I have close friends in my writing group who've written incredible books, and I can't even help them.
What's the story behind the writing group?
I started it in 2002 because I was tired of writing alone and wanted company. (And maybe, possibly, because I was hoping to meet some ladies.) The group started small -- I was the only person at the first meeting -- but I stuck with it. Now there are hundreds of people on the email list, and we get about 15 to 20 people per meeting.
What do you do at the group? Critique each other's stuff?
We write for the first hour -- no assigned topics. People just do their own thing, and then we take turns reading our work and giving/getting feedback. It's all very laid-back and social.
When and where do you meet?
We used to meet at Barnes & Noble on 66th and Broadway. Then the group became too big and moved several blocks to the public atrium at Ollie's Noodle Shop & Grille. When we became too big for that space, we started meeting in people's homes. In warmer months, we sometimes go to the park or take mini-road trips beyond Metrocard range. The schedule is unpredictable, but we tend to meet every week or two.
Are you looking for new members?
Not at the moment, but if you live in New York City and have a big apartment and would be willing to host a meeting, I'll make an exception.
Are you working on a new book?
Writing is extremely stressful for me, and I'm focusing on other stuff.
My YouTube channel. And enjoying life.
What's your middle name?
Did I say Benjamin?
Do you have any siblings?
Yeah, two half-brothers and a half-sister. The youngest one was born in 1963.
What kind of camera do you use?
I switch between a Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS and my iPhone 6s.
What kind of camera does your videographer use for the YouTube videos?
He has a Canon 6D.
How come you're allowed to film at stadiums but Dodgerfilms got shut down?
I think he got in trouble because he filmed during games and posted it online, which is a violation of MLB copyright rules. I'm not sure. I don't know the full story, but if you take a closer look at my videos, you'll see that I don't show any live game action.
Have you ever met Dodgerfilms? You guys should do a video together!
Yes, we have met. Here's a photo of us on 8/11/13 at Dodger Stadium. We live at opposite ends of the country, but I'd be happy to do a video with him someday.
Will you visit my school/camp/company/country club and give a speech?
Sure, get in touch and I'll give you my rates.
How long did it take to decorate your bathroom?
Two months. Click here for a video tour.
Did you use a special adhesive to get all those cards to stick?
Just clear packing tape.
What about your apartment?
That also took about two months, and I used regular scotch tape. Here's a long blog entry about the decorating process.
Do you have OCD?
No, you idiot. It's called passion.
Are you a virgin?
What's your favorite color?
What kind of music do you listen to?
My collection includes all genres of pop music from about 1953 to the present. We're talking doo-wop, oldies, lots of classic rock, disco, monster ballads, alternative/grunge, punk, hip-hop, techno/trance/house, pretentious new hipster shyte, and some guilty pleasures. I also have a good amount of classical music, a teeny bit of mostly-old-school country, some old jazz, and a whole playlist of video game music.
Why do you shave your head?
Nature started it. I finished it. Sometimes I do silly things to it.
What do you do in the off-season?
I exercise more, eat healthier, have time for my family and friends, geek out over music, work at the book store, go on a vacation or two, sleep even less, and get into all kinds of shenanigans with folks who don't give a damn about baseball. That's when I feel most alive. The people who know me best are the ones who see me in the winter.
Are you on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc?
I use Twitter the most (@zack_hample). I'm also on Instagram (@zack_hample), and I recently created a public Facebook page (@realzackhample). I'm not on Snapchat, but that might change soon.
Do you realize your FAQ section is 7,154 words?