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Zack Hample has an odd claim to fame: Over the course of his 44 years, the native New Yorker has collected more than 11,000 baseballs from major league stadiums. He chronicles his passion on his YouTube channel, which has more than 650,000 subscribers, and documents Hample snagging home runs, foul balls, batting-practice hits, and pregame player tossups at ballparks from San Francisco to Boston. His fans are legion, mostly in the teen and preteen demographic, and he gives away hundreds of baseballs a year to children. He caught Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit and Mike Trout’s first big-league home run. He’s written books, starred in a documentary movie about himself, and has a merchandise line (the Ballhawk-topus tee is $22, before tax and shipping). The New York Post once called him “baseball’s most hated fan.”
Some of Hample’s latest videos were set at Coors Field, where he attended games on August 10 and August 11—against the St. Louis Cardinals—as part of a 30-stadium tour this year. (That’s every single Major League Baseball park for those keeping track.) During the games he attended in Denver, Hample says ballpark security hounded him and made up rules to confine his ball-catching abilities. He was forced to give up a Nolan Arenado home run ball, which Hample picked off the ground in the service concourse underneath Coors’ left field bleachers. (He claimed he was within his rights to be in the area; Rockies’ security disagreed.)
The next day, Hample had a confrontation with an usher named John, who insisted that Hample remain in his section and stop tracking balls. “Come on,” Hample says at one point in the video, which went viral last week and has since been removed from his channel. “Don’t be that strict. That’s ridiculous. Telling me I can’t move 10 feet for a home run is ridiculous. Stop enforcing BS rules that you make up on the spot. It’s a home run ball. People can try to catch a home run.” In the end, Hample gives a “big L” to Coors Field for its fan experience.
Ultimately, it was Hample who took the L. Late last week, his name was a Twitter trending topic. People suggested that he be banned from major league stadiums. Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman called Hample “the definition of a clown” on Twitter. John, the usher, became a mini-celebrity.
As of this week, Hample was still taking criticism. “On a surface level, I can understand why Coors Field security was annoyed—why fans, if they’ve never seen me, would be upset,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “My mom always told me, even if you’re right, you have to be nice. I don’t think my response was as nice as it could have been. I tried to be thoughtful and reasonable in voicing my issues, but it was still a bad decision. I apologize for that.”
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
5280: How would you describe your YouTube channel?
Zack Hample: My videos serve as a guide for fans making trips to ballparks. It’s about fan experience. How can people maximize their time at the ballpark? Where do you go to see a stadium’s cool features, good food, the best places to interact with players? Where are the best places to get balls?
The whole baseball thing is my hook, my weird claim to fame. It’s what gets people’s attention. Sometimes, for better or worse, people have mixed reactions. If they really saw me, they’d know what I’m about. The pursuit of catching baseballs is the guiding force behind my personal fandom and what I do on YouTube. What I do is overwhelmingly positive, which is why it’s so unfortunate that things veered off that track during my Denver experience.
This wasn’t your first time at Coors Field?
I’ve been to 27 games there, all the way back to 2002. I’ve gotten 148 balls. There’ve always been some difficult ushers at Coors Field. That’s my experience, going back 10 to 15 years. There’s been a certain vibe that’s been challenging at Coors. There are awesome people there, but I’ve felt pressure there.
Do they know who you are?
Oh, yeah. They know. I’m known everywhere I go. People know me at every stadium. Players, fans, stadium employees.
You were here on August 11 and August 12, when the Rockies played the St. Louis Cardinals. What happened?
The first game, there was a weird vibe in batting practice. Ushers were being strict. They were telling me I couldn’t move to another section to catch a baseball. This is batting practice. They were telling me—and nobody else—not to move around.
There were kids who wanted my autograph. They spotted me from the bleachers and came down the stairs during the game. I was either signing and standing on the back fence—not blocking anyone’s view—or I’d go up on the staircase platform and sign as many autographs and take as many selfies as I could during the two-minute inning break. Late in the game, security told me I couldn’t do that. If I wanted to sign for people, I had to go up into the concourse. Effectively, it was punishing me. It was such a bummer.
What happened with the Arenado home run? You thought chasing a ball into the tunnel was OK?
I didn’t think I was going to get it. I’m always going to pursue a baseball until there’s no chance. If you look at the footage, you can see me moving through the walkway and then rounding the corner into the tunnel while the ball was still in midair.
You always want to imagine what you’d do in any possible scenario if a ball lands anywhere around you. Is someone blocking your way. Instinct took over. The walkway was empty. No one was standing there. The tunnel was empty. I was moving at a good pace, but nobody was in any physical danger. I’ve never knocked down anybody. I took off and headed up the walkway into the tunnel underneath the bleachers. I could see the ball bouncing right there.
[Security] was shocked when I appeared out of the tunnel. It happened so quickly. I did not step foot on that ramp because I wasn’t supposed to be there. I grabbed the ball and they immediately said I couldn’t do that because it was a restricted area. I saw things differently. If I broke a rule, I didn’t intentionally do so. I respectfully disagree. There’s a security camera.
I ask-slash-challenge, in a friendly way, the Rockies to release the video and let it speak for itself. If I broke the rule, let’s see it. If I stepped on the ramp, I’ll apologize and donate my next 5,000 balls to Rockies’ charities. But I didn’t do anything wrong. The Rockies felt that I had. I wasn’t there to fight. I gave them the ball, and I count it for my collection.
What happened on the second day?
There was a supervisor sitting next to me in left field. Everything was fine, and he and I were chatting. The fans were nice. Security was leaving me alone. I was chilling 420 feet from home plate. And then [Cardinals first baseman] Paul Goldschmidt hit a home run in the eighth inning.
I was selfie filming with an iPhone. I thought, Oh my God, that ball is gone. It was heading maybe 20 feet to my right. My section ended 10 feet to my right. So I moved through the walkway. I wasn’t running. I was drifting. It was barely even a jog—not Usain Bolt going to the ball. It went 10 feet over my head. This usher I’d interacted with before had been nagging me. He immediately started scolding me that I had to stay in my section. I thought it was ridiculous. He said, “I don’t care.” I said, “Stop making up BS rules.” They were just making up rules for me at that point.
But you’re running all over the place, and you’re 44 years old! You’re in the service area. I saw in one video that you take off your Rockies hat and put on a Cardinals hat, with the hope a St. Louis player will throw you a ball. People are side-eyeing you in your own videos. Can you understand why ushers and fans might be annoyed?
I can see why people would be annoyed at what I do. I know it’s pushing the limits of what a fan would do to get a baseball. But if they dig deeper, they might be amazed at what I do if they have open minds. I get it: A middle-aged man switching hats, running around, what a clown, what a loser. But that is less than one-tenth of one percent of what it’s about. Fans who see me for the first time are not annoyed. They’ll see someone constantly coming up and me putting smiles on kids’ faces.
You posted your Coors Field videos on YouTube, and they blew up online. Probably not what you intended?
It wasn’t. I was debating whether to include the security stuff the second day, but I felt fraudulent if I didn’t tell the story. I figured I would get overwhelming support on YouTube, which is what initially happened. I figured there’d be people who came out against me. I thought that would be limited to social media. But then it blew up and turned into a shitshow.
John was the usher who confronted you in the video. People have made him into a hero. Can you see he was just doing his job?
I don’t think he was. He was extremely cranky and power-tripping. He was part of the group that was inventing rules just for me. Still, I would say: “John, I’m sorry that things got so negative. Hopefully we can move on from that.”
In the second video, you say the Rockies need to make personnel changes. Are you asking that people be fired?
“Make a change” can be a training session. When an usher is enforcing a rule, that comes from the top. The Rockies limit where you can go even before the game. I don’t think people need to be fired, but the culture and approach needs to change.
With the Rockies, I just want things to be better. I want it to be good for fans. There are comments on my YouTube channel from people who say they had negative experiences at Coors Field. I’m not crazy. Call me obnoxious, but I’m not making this stuff up.
Do you regret posting those videos, at least the way you edited them?
I think everyone could have upped their game, myself included. I apologize for sending things in a negative direction. Whether or not I was right about what I did at the stadium, I think it was wrong to put all of that in the video. I apologize for that.
You made the second video unavailable.
I want to keep things positive. It’s not a good look for anybody, and I’ve thought a lot about what people said, and I understand both sides of it. Even though I think I was right, it wasn’t the best decision to post everything on YouTube. I maybe could have anticipated more the reaction. It wasn’t a good look for anybody. I want Major League Baseball to thrive. I want the Rockies to thrive.
Have you heard from Rockies management about your complaints?
I’ve not heard from any security or upper management. I’d love to.
What would you say to them?
I’d start by apologizing to the Rockies for disrupting things—mainly the videos. I’d apologize for bringing negativity their way. I’d also ask them to have a conversation with me on how to make things run smoother, in general. If you’re going to have rules, they should uniformly be enforced and they should be in writing. I’d ask them to be consistent and fair.
If the Rockies and I could kiss and make up, I could say, “I’m really sorry things went in this direction and I take responsibility for the videos.” And they could say, “We read you wrong, and we could have handled things differently.” Let’s do something and get people fired up together. I’d love to tell my viewers that I heard from the Rockies, and we both acknowledged things could have been handled better. It’d be so cool. It would go a long way for everybody.
Will you return to Coors Field?
The Rockies might have commemorative baseballs next year for their 30th anniversary, and I’m dreading the thought of going back there. I’ll check the visiting teams and see if I know players or coaches and see if they can grab a ball for me. I don’t want to go back to Coors Field anytime soon.