Frequently (and infrequently) asked questions
So you’re basically an obsessive man-child with a fetish for balls?
How dare you. Any other questions?
I’m going to a game at _______ Stadium next week. Can you give me some tips?
Absolutely! I've posted videos on my YouTube channel from EVERY current major league stadium, and I’ve written detailed blog entries about them all too, so check those out. You’ll also pick up lots of tricks and strategies from my most recent book, The Baseball, which has a huge section called “How To Snag Major League Baseballs.”
When are you coming to the Rogers Centre? How about Target Field? Coming back to Chicago this season? When are you doing another video in Tampa? Are you gonna be at Citi Field anytime soon? Can you come to Fenway Park on September 18th and visit me in the bleachers section number 37 row 8? Can you let me know when you'll be back in Milwaukee? Will you be at Nationals Park this year even though they’ve banned backpacks? Where can I can I find a schedule of your games? Can we meet up and talk baseball? I love u.
Thanks for asking, but I rarely announce my plans because it makes things too crazy for me and my plans often change at the last minute. I do sometimes reveal my whereabouts on social media, so keep an eye on my Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, all of which are @zack_hample.
Can I hire you to attend a game with me?
Yes. Way back in 2007, I started a business called Watch With Zack, and if you join me for a game, I guarantee you'll get a ball. Just make sure to read this before you get in touch.
How do you guarantee that?
Because, as the kids say, I’m the GOAT.
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.
When's your next video coming out?
During the season, I try to post videos every two or three days. During the off-season, I try to think about baseball as little as possible, so maybe one or two per week.
What do you mean you try not to think about baseball?
There was a time for me when life got in the way of baseball. Now it’s the other way around, and I often struggle to find the right balance.
What do you do in the off-season?
I exercise more, eat healthier, have time for my family and friends, geek out over music, hang out at my family's book store, go on a vacation or two (or three), sleep even less, and get into all kinds of shenanigans with folks who don't give a damn about baseball. The people who know me best are the ones who see me in the winter.
Can I have a baseball?
I've been asked this question quite a bit so I answered it in one of my Q&A videos. If you have a few minutes to spare, check this out. The short answer is that I give away lots of baseballs but only to kids at stadiums and to a certain charity.
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
If you mail me a ball or a book or a bobblehead or any other large item, do NOT simply include a shipping label. Kindly make this easy for me by providing an envelope or box that is totally ready to be dropped in the mail to you. Regardless of what you send, it’ll probably take at least a few weeks for me to send it back, so please be patient.
What'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. held the No. 1 spot for decades, but Mike Trout has finally taken over as my all-time favorite. I loved Heath Bell because he was incredibly nice to me, and I rooted like crazy for Tony Womack because he and I attended the same small college. I used to obsess over the stats on the backs of baseball cards, so I loved guys who consistently put up amazing numbers without using steroids: Wade Boggs, Frank Thomas, and Albert Pujols in their primes. I also loved Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Greg Maddux. These days I find myself drawn to players who’ve had to beat the odds or find their own strange ways to succeed — guys like Jose Altuve, Trevor Bauer, and Shohei Ohtani. I'm also 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?
I’ve been to 57 different major league stadiums, including 27 that no longer exist or which aren't typically used. Remember when MLB opened the 2012 season at the Tokyo Dome? How about in 2014 at the Sydney Cricket Ground? I was there. Same deal with a few other places including Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, the Monterrey Baseball Stadium in Mexico, and the London Stadium in England. 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 have several sources of baseball-related income along with a very flexible schedule. I earn revenue from my YouTube videos, have sponsors who pay me to promote them, collect royalties from a book I wrote called Watching Baseball Smarter, take people to games, and sell merch. I also get paid, on occasion, to be on TV and give speeches.
Will you visit my school/camp/company/prison/country club and give a speech?
Sure, get in touch and I'll give you my rates.
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 get 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 kept at it. 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 caught lots of historic balls?
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 home run on 7/24/11 at Camden Yards, Barry Bonds' 724th career home run 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 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 got the ball that Mariano Rivera pitched to complete his 313th career save — random, I know. My most recent/noteworthy acquisitions were a pair of game-used commemorative balls from the Dodgers’ combined no-hitter on 5/4/18 in Mexico.
Have you seen any other no-hitters or perfect games?
I was at Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter on May 14, 1996 at the old Yankee Stadium, and I saw Johan Santana’s no-no on June 1, 2012 at Citi Field. Unfortunately I’ve never attended a perfect game, but I did see David Cone strike out 19 batters on the final day of the 1991 season in Philadelphia. THAT was cool.
Have you caught any grand slams or walk-off home runs?
I’ve gotten three grannies, all at the new Yankee Stadium: Robinson Cano on 9/28/09, Carlos Beltran on 8/8/14, and Starlin Castro on 8/5/16. My one walk-off homer was also in the Bronx — Tyler Austin on 9/8/16.
How come you’re only linking to some of the dates here?
The linked dates will either take you to my blog entries (mostly from 2005-2015) or YouTube videos (mostly 2016 to the present). I haven’t written about or filmed at every game.
What did you do with all of these famous home run balls?
I gave the 3,000th hit ball to A-Rod 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 Trout his home run 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 falsely accused me of, I've never sold a ball.
Why didn't you sell any of these balls?
I reeeeeally wanted to keep the A-Rod ball, at least for a little while to think it over and enjoy having it in my possession. I also considered sending it to auction, but the Yankees made a generous offer. Ultimately I decided to do something nice with it that would have a huge, lasting impact on lots of people. Although the Trout ball would now sell for six figures, it wasn’t worth a ton when I caught it, and I just wanted him to have it. None of the other balls would sell for life-changing money, so I still have them them, and I’m glad.
How much do you think the A-Rod ball would’ve sold for?
Oh gawd. Auction and memorabilia experts estimated that it would’ve gone for as much as $500,000. I think it could’ve sold for more — possibly even $1 million. If that sounds insane, keep in mind that Mark McGwire’s then-record-breaking 70th home run ball of the 1998 season sold at auction for $3.005 million, and yeah, the market was inflated back then and no one seemed to notice or care that all these guys were juiced out of their skulls, but A-Rod is absurdly famous, and I was the *only* member of the public to be in possession of a 3,000th career hit baseball. Only two other players had ever gone yard for their 3,000th hits: Wade Boggs in 1999 and Derek Jeter in 2011, and the fans who grabbed those baseballs gave ‘em back to the players. For my book, The Baseball, I compiled a list of the top-ten highest selling baseballs of all time. No. 10 was Barry Bonds’ 715th home run — the shot that put him ahead of Babe Ruth on the career list. That one sold for $220,100. Who knows if my A-Rod ball would’ve eclipsed that? It’s fun to think about this but faaaaaack it still makes me cringe.
What did the Yankees give you for the A-Rod ball?
When I first got 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, but I wasn't interested in any of that. After the game I met 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 including tickets to the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game that season in Cincinnati and a behind-the-scenes tour of Yankee Stadium.
How much is your whole collection worth?
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 in September of 2014 for $500, and I snagged nine of them. Are they worth more now or less? It’s fun to think about this stuff, but it doesn’t really matter because I’m not planning to sell any of it.
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 got 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. Nowadays if I get my hands on a particularly special but generic-looking ball, I’ll stick it in a plastic ball cube with a tiny piece of paper that has the player’s name written on it — just the bare minimum for me to remember and differentiate it from the rest.
How many balls are you up to now?
More than 11,000. 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. More specifically, it wasn’t enough for me to simply own the baseballs; Guinness wanted proof of how I obtained them all and requested that I provide letters on official stationery from fans, players, and stadium employees who would verify my claim. One of Guinness’s policies states that anything sent to them becomes their property, meaning they would own the rights. I’d 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 an older fan in Pittsburgh who claims to have gotten more than 10,000 balls, but he's both unable and unwilling to prove it (and, incidentally, unable to speak). He's a mystery even to the other fans who know him best; he's been around forever and has surely acquired thousands of balls, but there's no way to verify the exact number. There are a handful of guys who've snagged 3,000 to 6,000 balls, but some of them count balls from Spring Training and the Minor Leagues. I don't. But I do 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 them in my stats. Here's my favorite video that I've ever done at a minor league stadium. Actually . . . wait, THIS is my favorite. Yeah.
Who are the best players that have thrown balls to you?
Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Derek Jeter, Clayton Kershaw, 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.
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 also got three home runs during one game on May 1, 2018 at Great American Ball Park. Here's my video from that day.
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. I got at least one baseball at 1,523 consecutive games from 1993 to 2019 and then intentionally ended my streak.
Why the hell did you do that?
Click the link in my answer above. That’s my video from the day it ended, and I explained everything in great detail. The short answer is that I got too caught up worrying about the streak and missed a bunch of game home runs as a result. Basically it became a burden and stopped being fun.
Where do you keep your balls?
They're mostly in storage 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 one barrel at her place, but I don’t feel bad about it because she likes showing the balls to new visitors.)
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, especially now that I've passed 10,000, I'm going more for 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 snag at least 100 baseballs at every stadium.
How many home runs have you gotten during games?
Seventy! Check out this list for the exact total (and lots of video footage).
Did you ever think your collection would turn into such a big thing?
Not at all. It's just something I started doing for fun, but I admit that the attention has been pretty cool at times.
Do people recognize you out in public?
You mean in random places, like out on the street or in restaurants or whatever? Yeah, here and there. At major league stadiums, I get approached about 100 times per day.
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 getting people to pledge money for the baseballs that I catch at major league games. The money goes to Pitch In For Baseball and Softball, a non-profit charity that provides equipment to underserved children and communities all over the world. Including the money that the Yankees donated for the A-Rod ball, I've raised more than $200,000. Here's my 2019 fundraiser. I’d be thrilled if you'd make a donation or at least help spread the word.
Are you ever going to stop collecting?
Probably not but who knows?
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.
Is it true that 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 usually 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 that 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.
Why would people lie about that?
People lie about all kinds of things and make false accusations. I’m not a psychologist. I can’t explain it. But I can tell you that things got especially bad for me when I snagged A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and tweeted that I was going to keep the ball. Lots of Yankee fans were PISSED, and the angriest of all was a notorious bully known as Bald Vinny — a guy who had famously led other Yankee fans in singing “Why are you gay” during the playing of “YMCA.” He was the ringleader of the Bleacher Creatures, so he got interviewed by the local media and trashed me despite never having met me. Unfortunately, because of how the internet works, once something appears in writing, it gets repeated forever whether or not it’s true, so I have to live with this false public narrative about how I’m aggressive toward children. It’s the worst.
Do you want a hug?
Do people also lie about how 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 ever behaved that way, but I learned from my mistakes. As a grown-up, I’ve given away thousands of baseballs and taught hundreds of thousands of people how to catch baseballs for themselves. I’m not claiming to be a hero — just that I’m not the worst man in America.
What do you do with the balls that you keep?
I do exactly that: I keep them. They make me happy. Is that weird? Someone on YouTube once asked if I’ve ever gotten kinky with my baseballs. 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 only want balls that I've caught. People love to offer baseballs to me, and while I appreciate the generosity, I have zero interest.
Do you actually enjoy watching baseball or do you only care about catching balls?
I love the sport and follow it closely. I watch games on TV, read box scores, and generally try to keep up with every team and all the players. When I'm at games, going for baseballs helps me stay focused. It's the same reason that folks keep score or play fantasy baseball, 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.
Could you please rate my fantasy team and give me any pointers on how to improve it?
That’s an actual question that someone emailed to me, and the answer is no. I’ve never played fantasy baseball, and even if I did, still no.
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. If anything, I'm trying to do *less* baseball stuff.
Do you follow any sports other than baseball?
Nope, unless LeBron is playing in the Finals.
Meh. I can only handle being obsessed with one sport.
What's your favorite stadium?
Favorite in terms of what, beauty and charm? Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. In terms of how fun and easy it is to run around and catch baseballs? Great American Ball Park and Camden Yards.
What makes those stadiums so great for catching baseballs?
Lots and lots and lots of room to move around because of (a) the architectural layout combined with (b) small crowds and (c) laid-back ushers who have better things to do than enforce meaningless rules. Add (d) the extra-early gate-opening times and (e) the hitter-friendly dimensions, and it’s a winning combo. Turner Field in Atlanta was incredible despite being a pitcher’s park and Nationals Park was a dream when it first opened. Citi Field was also amazing for the first two years. It used to be empty, and it opened two and a half hours early, and security was chill. Now it’s crowded and only opens two hours early, and it feels like the guards are out to get you, and the protecting netting is out of control, but whatever. The point is that things change, and my answer up above to the “favorite stadium” question will probably change too.
What’s your least favorite stadium?
This will hopefully change too: Busch. I think it’s gorgeous and has a great atmosphere, but for me personally, I hate that it opens so late most days that fans can’t see batting practice. I also loathe the no-backpack rule, and it’s always crowded and tough to move around, and OMG, the placement of the bullpens is the worst — right smack-dab in the power alleys! WTF, Cardinals? Are you trolling me and trying to make it as hard as possible to get baseballs? Target Field is another beautiful venue that I find challenging, and Citi Field is also low on my list these days.
Do you have season tickets anywhere?
Yes, a full-season plan at Yankee Stadium, but I don't attend every game. Sometimes I have other stuff to do or just need a break. Once upon a time, I had a 13-game plan at Camden Yards, and I recently gave up my season tickets at Citi Field.
Why can’t you admit that you’re a Yankees fan?
Let’s not do this.
Why don’t you like the same team that I like? Can I hate you for that and say mean things about you on the internet?
Do you collect autographs?
Back in high school, I was really into autographs but never hung out at the hotels or anything like that. I still get stuff signed on occasion, but now it’s more incidental. 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 and early 2000s.
I never really 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 I loved how they stood out from all the balls and cards and glossy photos that everyone else seemed to get signed. I’ve filmed my collection in a four-part series for YouTube. Click here and here and here and here to see for yourself how special it is.
So you don't have any signed balls?
I do but only 11 of them are balls that I caught. I got my 1,000th, 2,000th, 4,000th, 5,000th, 6,000th, 7,000th, 8,000th and 10,000th 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 CBS incident. While working as a production assistant for the worst talk show in history, I lent a ball to the network for a segment with Charlie Sheen. It was returned with his autograph, so I thanked him for it on his way out. He then waved me over to ask 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, 9,000th, or 11,000th 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. Joc Pederson hit it so I’m trying to track him down. I’m also hoping to get Francisco Liriano to sign No. 11,000.
What are your best autographs?
It felt great to get Cal Ripken Jr. and Mike Trout in person. Those are two of my favorites even though they’re not the most valuable. In addition to the dozens of Hall of Famers that I showed in my ticket stub videos, I was fired up to get Jose Reyes on three different tickets from his cycle on 6/21/06 at Shea Stadium. I also have the entire 1986 Mets team on a ball, but that was given to me, so it’s not as meaningful.
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, and other equipment. I filmed a whole video about my bat collection, so check that out. 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 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. My favorite card of all time is this one.
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, Sex at Dawn, 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.
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.
What is your religion?
So then how was the universe created???
I don’t know, and I accept not knowing. Let’s not have this conversation, mkay?
Why did you go to college in 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 my teammates, and I didn't want to be around them. There was rampant homophobia and too much hostility, and 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 batted .724 in my senior year of high school and finished my college career with a .429 average (6-for-14). Thank you.
How come you didn’t get drafted out of high school? Why did you only get 14 at-bats in college if you hit so well?
Columbia Prep is a wimpy private school in a wimpy league that doesn’t attract scouts. At Guilford the upper classmen generally got more playing time even if they weren't the best players. I’m not saying I should’ve been drafted, but if I could do it all over again, I’d definitely choose a different path with a higher level of competition at an earlier age.
What position did you play?
Third base and scoreboard operator. In high school and summer ball, 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 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 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. I try not to go two consecutive days without working out.
Can you be more specific about your routine? What exactly do you do?
Crunches and push-ups one day, crunches and light weights the next. That's it. Very little cardio. A big reason that I'm fit is that I rarely drink calories. Water all the way, baby! 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. I wasn't allowed to drink soda when I was little, but 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 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 alcohol 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?
Do you vape?
Do you dip?
OMG, no! #barf #cancer
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 word knowledge is rusty now. At one point, I had the 479th highest rating in North America, whatever that means.
What was your best game?
June 4, 1998. That’s when I got extremely lucky and beat Joel Sherman at the NYC club. He was 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, FYI.) 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.
Your parents let you get away with that?
They were probably just happy that I went to school at all. I really really REALLY hated school, and I think they realized that there are other ways to succeed.
What's the story behind your rubber band ball?
I started it when I was four. Now it weighs much more than I do. In fact, it probably weighs more than you and me combined. Here's a detailed account of how it came to be, along with dozens of photos and a separate FAQ section. If you still want more, here's a video of the ball in Central Park, and here’s a Q&A video devoted to it.
Is it true that you have the world record on Arkanoid?
How do you know you have the record?
Twin Galaxies says so. They’re basically 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 a lot as a kid and loved it so much that I bought my own Arkanoid machine in 1999.
How much d—
$280 on eBay.
Do you play MLB The Show?
Nah, I never got into sports video games for the same reason that I don’t play fantasy baseball. I have more than enough of the real thing to entertain me.
What other video games do you like?
Set me up with an original 8-bit Nintendo, and I’ll play all three of the Super Mario Bros. games forever. Legend of Zelda. Life Force. Dr. Mario. Tetris!! No one has ever beaten me at Tetris. Just sayin’. I love the arcade version of Asteroids, but I suck at it. Joust is fun, but I suck at it. Ever play Spectar? Ever heard of Spectar? No? Well, it’s really fun, and I suck at it, and yes, I’m completely stuck in the 1980s when it comes to video games. How about Pengo? Qix? Ugh. Never mind. I’ll go be old by myself.
How did you arrange that whole helicopter stunt?
I have a friend who’s 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 invited me 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 to 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 — 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 being nearly impossible to catch and possibly hitting me square in the face. I was well-protected with catcher's gear, but it occurred to me that if I were staring straight up at the sky and a ball hit me on 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 belonged to Hall-of-Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. Way back in 1930, he caught one that was dropped from a blimp 800 feet high, and I thought, “Pffff, I could do that.”
Did you set the record?
Yes, after many attempts, I caught one from a height of 1,050 feet. Here’s the video.
You're a total douchebag attention whore.
That's not a question.
Aren’t you in the Guinness Book for the helicopter thing?
No because I would’ve had to pay $50,000 for them to send an “adjudicator.” That’s their business model. Cool, huh?
What other cool stuff did you get to do because of writing your last 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 worked closely with the research director at the Hall of Fame.
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 either mail it to me at the Argosy with a self-addressed stamped envelope or bring it to a game and track me down.
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 20 people per meeting.
What do you do at the group? Critique each other's stuff?
We write for the first hour without any assigned topics. People just do their own thing, and then we take turns reading our work aloud and giving/getting feedback. It's all very laid-back and social.
Are you working on a new book?
Writing is stressful, and I'm focusing on YouTube videos.
What's your middle name?
Did I say Benjamin?
Do you have any siblings?
Yeah, two half-brothers and a half-sister named Joe, Henry, and Martha. They’re all much older than me.
What kind of camera do you use?
When I film selfie-style videos, I use my iPhone X and a GoPro Hero 7 Black. Most of the videos I've done with a videographer have been filmed with 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 lots of game footage 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 rarely show any live game action — maybe the tail end of a guy running the bases or a long-distance shot of an outfielder catching the ball.
Have you ever met Dodgerfilms? You guys should do a video together!
Yes, we’ve met a few times. Here's a photo of us on 8/11/13 at Dodger Stadium, and most recently we crossed paths at the All-Star FanFest in Miami in 2017. We live at opposite ends of the country, but I'd be happy to do a video with him someday.
How long did it take to decorate your bathroom?
Two months. Click here for a short/crappy video tour of the bathroom and click here for a longer/better tour of my entire place.
Did you use a special adhesive to get all those cards to stick?
Just clear packing tape.
What about decorating 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?
It's called passion, dumbass.
Are you a virgin?
What's your favorite color?
What’s the worst airline?
What are your favorite TV shows?
I don’t watch TV.
When I feel like wasting time, I look at Reddit, but really, there’s too much other stuff I’d rather do. I tend to create more than I consume.
Who are your favorite YouTubers?
Because I’m extremely mature and kind-hearted, the only channel that I watch regularly is Fail Army. Other than that, it’s just whatever I happen to stumble upon.
Will you subscribe to me on YouTube? Follow me on Twitter? Look at my Snapchat? DM me on Instagram? Can we be friends on Facebook? Can we talk on Twitch? Did you get my emails? Did you get the letter I sent? Is this really Zack Hample because my friend doesn’t believe that I’m actually writing to you. Can I have a shoutout in your next video? Could you send a quick video greeting to my son for him to use in his Bar Mitzvah montage?
Wow, okay. I wish I could say yes to all of this, but I *can* assure you that if you hear from me, it’s really me. I don't have interns or employees responding on my behalf. Maybe someday? I don’t use Facebook much, but if you want to check out my fan page, here it is.
What kind of music do you listen to?
There's ALWAYS a song in my head or some random snippet of a melody. Classic rock, hip hop, doo-wop, EDM, reggae, alternative, Motown, punk, folk, classical (Glenn Gould playing Bach gives me chills), disco, Top 40, indie, trip hop, funk, symphonic metal? Yes to all of that plus a teeny bit of old-school country, flamenco, big band, early jazz, and a dozen other random genres. I have a whole playlist of video game music too. To hell with Pandora and Spotify! Don’t need it.
Why do you shave your head?
Nature started it. I finished it. Sometimes I do silly things to it.
How tall are you?
Who’s your celebrity crush?
What’s your favorite quote?
“I can't stand satisfaction. To me, greatness comes from that quest for perfection.” -Mike Schmidt
Do you realize your FAQ section is 8,577 words?