Why is your website so ugly?
Oh, jeez. I know it needs an overhaul. Can we talk about something else?
I'm a baseball fan, a published author, a native New Yorker, a world record holder, and a really big nerd. That's the quick answer. Keep reading and check out my photos
to find out more.
New York City?
Yes. I've lived in Manhattan my whole life.
Ever been mugged?
Only once. I was 12 and absent-mindedly walked down an empty street on my way
home from school. Two guys stepped out of a doorway, and one of them
said, "Give us your money." I didn't even own a wallet at
the time, so they only got two subway tokens, which were then worth
$1.15 apiece. Haha.
Where did you go to school?
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 awful).
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 I gotta say that 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
How come you stopped playing?
On a personal level, most of my teammates were dickheads, and I didn't want to be around them. There was a bit too much homophobia and hostility. 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 were lucky, getting to
pinch-hit at the tail end of a blowout? I think not.
So, you weren't that good?
Well, look what I'm doing with my life. I'm writing about baseball
instead of playing it, so I guess I wasn't THAT good in the grand scheme
of things. I would, however, like to point out 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. I'm not saying I was the
best, but still . . .
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 a team whose coach wasn't terribly concerned with winning and losing.
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 of 1993 and being horrified to discover that I weighed 205. Four months later I was down to 180, and now I'm holding steady at about 170.
Do you follow any sports other than baseball?
Because I don't care. I'll watch highlights on "SportsCenter" every now and then, but in terms of who wins and loses? Meh.
What's your favorite baseball team?
I don't have one. I grew up as a Mets fan, but now I root for
individual players regardless of what teams they're on.
Who are your favorite players?
Cal Ripken Jr. is my all-time favorite. I love Heath Bell because he's incredibly nice to me, and I rooted bigtime for Tony Womack because he went
to Guilford. I have a thing for numbers, so I like guys who consistently
put up amazing stats (without using steroids): Frank Thomas and Wade
Boggs in their primes, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols these days. I normally root against the Yankees, but I love Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Ichiro Suzuki and Greg Maddux rank high on my list. Craig Kimbrel and Giancarlo Stanton are
newer faves. I like Jeremy Guthrie because he's a cool dude, and I'm pulling for Loek Van Mil because he's 7-foot-1 (and still
in the Minor Leagues).
What's the deal with your baseball collection?
I've always loved collecting stuff, and I tend to get obsessed with things, and one of them happens
to be snagging baseballs at major league games. Someone has to be insane
about it. Might as well be me.
How did you get into it?
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.
Do all your balls come from batting practice?
Most but not all. I've caught lots during actual games.
Have you ever caught a historic ball?
Yes. My top three are Mike Trout's first major league homer, Barry Bonds' 724th career homer, and the final Mets home run (thank you, Carlos Beltran) ever hit at Shea Stadium. I also caught Derek Jeter's 3,262nd career hit (a homer in the bottom of the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium), and I snagged the ball that recorded the final out of Mariano Rivera's 313th career save -- random, I know.
What did you do with these balls? Did you sell them?
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 in my life.
What if someone offered you a million dollars?
None of my baseballs are worth that much.
How about $100,000?
None of them are worth that much either, though I suppose it would've been a good investment to hang onto the Trout ball. At the time, though, I just wanted him to have it because it was obviously worth more to him than to me. That said, I would only consider selling a baseball if it would bring life-changing money. If I were to sell, let's say, that final Mets home run ball from Shea for $10,000, it wouldn't change my life, except for the fact that I'd feel bad about not owning it anymore. Would I be able to retire with that much extra money in the bank? No.
How much is your whole collection worth?
It's not for sale, and I have no idea. You tell me. If you wanted to
buy an official major league ball from a store, it'd cost anywhere from
$12 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? $50 apiece? $100 apiece? More?
Less? 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 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.
many balls are you up to now?
More than 6,600. 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
now they're just being difficult and 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
(some of which are on YouTube),
but the networks won't allow it. It's extremely frustrating.
But you do have the record, right?
It's kind of complicated, but yeah, I do. There's a guy in San Francisco who claims to have snagged more than 7,000 balls, but everyone who knows him says he's full of it. 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 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.
Who are the best players that have thrown balls to you?
Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman,
Ryan Howard, Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Don Mattingly,
Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols, Mariano
Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Ozzie Smith, and Ichiro Suzuki to name a few.
Here's the complete
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.) My record for foul balls in one game during the actual game is three, and I've done it four times, most recently
at Camden Yards. I also once snagged two home runs during one game.
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.
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.
Where do you keep your balls?
They're mostly at my mom's place. I have five filing
drawers filled with 144 balls apiece, nine 32-gallon barrels
each with 400, two 50-gallon bins each with 600, and more balls scattered in other places.
What does your mom think?
My parents thought it was cute until 1992, worrisome through '98, and fantastic
once my book came out in '99. My mom still digs it as a hobby, but she's sick of the actual baseballs themselves.
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 suppose I'm going for 10,000, but I'm starting to think more about quality than quantity. I really want to catch a milestone home run (such as a player's 100th or 500th career homer), and I'd also love to catch a World Series home run.
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?
Yeah, sort of. A kid once recognized me in a restaurant in Puerto Rico, and I've been spotted in some other random places, but it generally happens at games. Some people are like, "Are you Zack Hample?!" but most folks say something along the lines of, "Hey, are you that guy from YouTube" or "Weren't you on TV for catching baseballs?" I'm usually shy about starting conversations with strangers, so it's cool when people come up to me and start talking. It sucks when I'm trying to catch balls during BP and someone won't shut up, but other than that . . . come say hey if you see me.
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.
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 man, 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?
For the last few years, I've been encouraging people to pledge a small amount of money for each baseball that I snag at major league games -- anywhere from a penny to a dollar per ball (or even more). The money goes to Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball and softball equipment to needy kids all over the world. I've been doing this since 2009, and I've raised more than $20,000 in the process. Here's some more info.
Are you ever going to stop collecting?
Probably not, but who knows?
When's your next game?
Hard to say. It's usually a last-minute decision, and the weather has
a lot to do with it. The best way to keep up with what I'm doing is
to follow me on Twitter and read my blog.
Can I go to a game with you?
I was hoping you'd ask. In fact, 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.
Can you give me one of your baseballs?
Absolutely. Hire me for a game and I'll catch some for you. It's as simple
as that. I'll also help you snag balls on your own and teach you lots of lesser-known facts and nuances about the sport itself.
Can you give me a ball if we don't go to a game together?
Anything's possible. When I attend games on my own, I still give balls
away, but not to people who ask. (If I gave one to everyone who asked,
I'd have negative 20,000 balls.) I give them to little kids with gloves who
are trying hard to get balls on their own, but who are coming up just a
bit short. Sometimes, if I'm too busy running around to spot a deserving
kid, I'll give a ball to an usher and tell him to give it to the fan
he thinks will enjoy it most. So who knows? Even if you're not an official
Watch With Zack client, one of my baseballs might still end up in your
Have you ever gotten into a fight for a ball?
I've been at the bottom of some scrums and taken a few elbows to the jaw,
but nothing too serious or malicious. Everyone gets a little crazy
in the heat of the moment, but most people are then able to step back
from it and appreciate the competition as part of the fun.
Do you knock over little kids?
No, no, and no. I've never knocked over a kid -- or anyone, for that matter. 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.
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 balls away and teach kids (of
all ages) how to snag balls for themselves.
What do you do with the balls that you keep?
I do exactly that: 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 balls?
No. I'm only interested in owning balls that I've caught.
Do you ever just sit back and enjoy the game?
I enjoy the game BY running around. Going for balls
helps me stay focused. It's the same reason
why some people like to keep score, but chasing baseballs is better
exercise. I do sometimes miss a bit of the action by running around,
but that doesn't mean I don't care. I watch games on TV all the time,
and I read every box score every day.
What's the best way to catch a ball?
The best way is to hire me for the day. If that's too expensive, buy my latest book and read the part called "How to Snag Major League Baseballs." If that's too expensive, you can read my blog for free.
I write about every game I attend, and I explain exactly what I do.
You won't find a
better source of info, but if you're just looking for a quick answer . . . show
up early for batting practice, bring a glove, be alert, stay mobile,
wear a hat of the visiting team, beg the players for balls, and if possible, have
very large breasts.
I'm going to a game at _______ Stadium next week. Can you give
me some tips?
I get so many emails like this that I truly don't have time to answer
them, but guess what? I've been to EVERY current major league stadium since I
started blogging in 2005. This means I've already written an entry/tutorial on the place you're going to. The best way to find it is to Google my name along with the name of the stadium.
How many stadiums have you been to overall?
Fifty. Check out my lists. There's one in
particular called stadium
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, Kauffman Stadium, and Turner Field.
What are your least favorites?
Citi Field and Yankee Stadium -- kind of a shame considering the fact that I live in New York City.
How many games have you been to?
More than a thousand. Check out the lists.
Do you have season tickets?
How do you get tickets?
I usually buy them on the day of the game, either from StubHub or at the stadium's ticket window.
How do you afford to go to all these games?
There's this thing called work . . .
No really, isn't it expensive?
Actually, no. In a typical season, I'll attend a few dozen games, many of which
are in New York and are accessible by subway. I usually buy the
cheapest tickets, which cost $20 or less, so I spend less than $1,000
a year. Every now and then, I'll book a hotel and hop on a flight to
check out a new stadium, but that's still a pretty cheap way to take
a vacation. Anyway, like I said, I work.
Where do you work?
In addition to writing books and taking people to games and getting paid to give speeches, I work at my family's book store.
I used to write for minorleaguebaseball.com,
and I've had a bunch of random jobs over the years. I always hate it when some random person asks, "So, what do you do?" because it takes five minutes to explain everything, and believe it or not, I'm not always in the mood to talk about myself.
How come you don't write for minorleaguebaseball.com anymore?
The hours were brutal, the money wasn't great, and I had my own
writing projects to pursue, so I quit. No hard feelings. I just had
to move on.
What did you write for minorleaguebaseball.com?
Mostly game recaps like this or this,
plus occasional feature stories like this and this.
(I still write articles like this for other sites, and I've also gotten paid to write the forewords/introductions for a few books.)
Did you attend all those games?
No, unfortunately we did the work from an office in Manhattan and got the info
online. When something spectacular happened
(like a no-hitter, for example) and I needed quotes, I called the team and requested
an interview with the players and coaches.
How did you get that job?
Total fluke. I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. That's the
only way to get anywhere in New York City, it seems.
What do you do at the book store?
The book store is more than just books. There's an entire floor of antique
maps and prints and another floor of autographs. I mainly catalog books and autographs for the website, but sometimes I'll answer the phones or ring up sales at the cash register. I'm also an organizational/efficiency expert, so I help streamline things. It's an extraordinary place. My grandfather started
the business in 1925.
Do you collect autographs?
Yeah, sometimes, but I'm not stalker-ish about it. I don't hang 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 six of them are balls that I caught. I got my 1,000th,
2,000th, and 4,000th balls signed by the players who threw them to me,
and I got three other signed balls without trying. I once caught
one at Shea 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, 5,000th, or 6,000th 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. My 5,000th ball was a BP homer by Alex Rios, and let's just say that he's not known for being fan-friendly. No. 6,000 was tossed by Brad Lidge, who got released by the Nationals shortly thereafter.
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.
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: 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, 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, Seams, Lolita, There's Nothing Normal About Us (which incredibly remains unpublished), Children's Letters
to God, 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 Children's Letters to God your dad's book?
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.
Do you play fantasy baseball?
No! Never! First of all, I don't have enough time, and secondly, I don't
want an abstract game to dictate who I should root for in real life.
That's not meant as a diss toward people who are into it. I'm just saying it's not my thing.
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 five sanctioned tournaments, and started working at national
Are you ranked?
The Scrabble world uses a rating system instead of simply ranking
people 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. The worst possible rating (like, 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 think I had something like 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
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 simply didn't care.
When did you start your rubber
When I was four. My older cousin had one, and he was the coolest guy in the world,
so I had to have one too. My mom actually started it for me because
I wasn't able to wrap the bands around it at the time.
You've spent decades working on a rubber band ball?!
It's just a part-time thing.
At this point, I only add to it when I'm on the phone with someone who
won't shut up.
What's in the center of the ball?
No, in the VERY center. Did you start with a ping pong ball or something?
Hell no, that's cheating! My ball is 100% rubber bands.
But how do you start with nothing?
You don't start with nothing. You start with a rubber band, preferably
a big one. Just fold it over a few times and then
carefully wrap other bands around it. This is what the center of a rubber band ball should look like.
How much does your ball weigh?
How big are you going to make it?
I'm limited by the width of the door to my apartment. If the ball gets
much bigger, I won't be able to get it out.
Does it bounce?
Do I want my downstairs neighbors to kill me? And can I even lift it?
Actually, it would bounce pretty high on a solid surface like the sidewalk,
but Mayor Bloomberg might take issue.
Does it float?
No clue. I never had the guts to try this particular experiment. I suspect
that if it got wet, the water would seep into the core and slowly rot
the entire ball from the inside out.
How do you find rubber bands that are big enough?
I order the tan bands from a company in
Pennsylvania that specializes in industrial-strength office supplies, and I get the colored bands from a small distributor in New York City.
Isn't that expensive?
Not really because I buy them in bulk. Adding to the ball was more expensive in its
early stages when I used tiny bands that came in small packages.
Were you always the superstar of show-and-tell?
Do you have the record for the largest rubber band ball?
Not even close. The biggest ball in the world weighs more than four tons.
The guy who made it got sponsored by a rubber band company (and lives in the country, where space isn't an issue).
How do you prevent the outside layer of the ball from deteriorating?
I make sure to keep adding to it. Each fresh layer preserves the bands beneath it.
Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?
I'd take on the horse-sized duck for two reasons. First, I don't like killing things, so assuming I'd win, I'd rather only have to harm one creature, and secondly, I'd end up with a yearlong supply of duck meat. Ever had Peking Duck? So good.
Is it true that you have the world record on Arkanoid?
I don't lie.
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. The Spinners arranged for a film crew to be there. I drove up from New York City with my mom and some friends. And that was it.
How scary was it to try catch baseballs that were dropped from 1,000 feet?
The whole thing was surreal and insanely 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 facing, I was effectively going to catch a 103-mile-per-hour 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 therefore possibly hitting me square in the face. Yeah, I was well-protected with catcher's gear that'd been donated by Rawlings (which will soon be donated 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, and I only bruised a finger.
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, "Sheeeit, I could do that."
So, did you set the record?
Not quite. I caught baseballs dropped from heights of 312 feet, 562 feet, and 762 feet before the wind picked up and the FAA called off the stunt. I did, evidently, set a record by catching a softball dropped from 312 feet, and I'm gonna go for the baseball record again this summer. Stay tuned.
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 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 took a solid 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. The best time for me to sign the book at a game would be
outside the stadium before the gates open, between batting practice
and the game, or between innings. Pitching changes could also work.
And rain delays.
How did you get the book published?
After writing the first draft of my first book and then editing it like mad, 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 the deal with the writing
I started it in 2002 because I was tired of writing alone and wanted company. (And maybe, possibly, because I was hoping to meet girls.) The group started small -- I
was the only person at the first meeting -- but I stuck with it. Now there are nearly 400 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 weekly-ish.
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. I'm much happier, and I enjoy life a whole lot more when I'm not working on a book. I'll probably write another someday, but I'm having too much fun right now doing other things.
Oh, you know . . .
Do you have a girlfriend?
Depends who's asking.
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 have a Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS.
Will you visit my school/camp/company/country club and give a speech?
Sure, get in touch and I'll give you my rates.
If you could have five people, past or present, over for dinner, who would they be?
Alfred Kinsey, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Babe Ruth, Barack O'Bama, and Benny Hample -- the one grandparent I never met.
How long did it take to decorate your bathroom?
Two months. Click
here for a video tour.
Did you use some 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 (with a ton of photos) about the decorating process.
Do you have OCD?
It's called passion, bitch.
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 even one Justin Bieber song. (Whatever. We all have our 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. (Ever
hear the Life Force medley? Ooh yeah.)
Why do you shave your head?
Nature started it. I finished it. Sometimes I do silly things to it.
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 why 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?
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?
No, and I have no desire to, but I think it should be legal.
Are you on Facebook?
Nah, just MySpace and Twitter.
I was the last person to join MySpace, and before that, I was the
last person to join Friendster. I'd poured my guts into my (now-deleted)
Friendster profile. I updated it constantly, and I wrote amazing testimonials
for all my friends, and then one day, everyone was like, "Friendster
sucks. It's all about MY space," and I was like, "Your what?"
and they were like, "MySpace, retard," and I was
like, "I'm perfectly content being on Friendster, and I've spent
all this time and effort maintaining my profile there, so whatever,
you go have fun with your little MySpace friends," but then of
course it actually became embarrassing to be on Friendster, so I had
no choice but to join MySpace. Then one day, when all seemed right with
the world, people started telling me, "MySpace is for losers. You
gotta be on Facebook, Son," and I was like, "Ha, I'm not falling
for this again." So I decided to hold out. I refused to transfer everything to another social networking site. In addition, Facebook
makes everything public. Anyone you're friends with, I've been told,
can "write on your wall." I have lots of different friends;
some worlds were not meant to collide. And finally, Facebook just seems
annoying. I'm obviously not one to judge (as I've spent a large portion of
my life chasing baseballs), but I don't feel the need to have
a virtual pet, nor do I feel the need to play Words With Friends. I refuse
to play online Scrabble. I used to play back in college and people always
cheated or accused me of cheating. And then they'd quit. No thanks.
I don't need Facebook to entertain me. There! I said it, and I feel
a lot better.
Do you realize your FAQ section is 8,265 words?