People often ask if I’ve ever gotten into a fight for a ball, and until recently, my answer had always been no. Sure, I’d been elbowed and shoved a few times over the years, but it was never serious. Unfortunately that changed during batting practice at this game. After catching a home run in right field during the Yankees’ portion of BP and then going for a toss-up from the Orioles, I was flat-out ASSAULTED — and the worst part of it was that my mom was with me.
Let me start by showing you a photo of my neck, and then I’ll explain what happened:
Soon after the Orioles started hitting, Miguel Gonzalez retrieved a ball near the warning track and looked up into the crowd for a worthy recipient. The stands were so crowded that I almost didn’t bother going for it, but given the fact that Miguel recognizes me and has been pretty cool to me in recent seasons, I moved down to the front row and called out to him. As soon as he saw me, he smiled and flipped me the ball, but I didn’t catch it because some big guy standing behind me lunged forward aggressively on my right side, reached all the way across my body to the left, and knocked the ball away with his glove, bumping me kinda hard in the process. (This guy was roughly six feet tall and looked like he was about 20 years old.) Miguel picked up the ball and tossed it to me again. It was *clearly* intended for me, but this other guy was on a mission. This time he bumped me even harder and swatted the ball away for a second time. I was really annoyed, but Miguel just seemed to be amused. In a way, I suppose it was kinda funny that this other guy was getting so worked up over a ball, but what happened next was no laughing matter. Miguel retrieved the ball for the third time, and I gave him a target with my glove in a spot where the other guy wouldn’t be able to interfere: far to my left and down below the outfield wall. As soon as I caught it, the guy grabbed me from behind and tried to body-slam me against the seats and the concrete wall down in front. It happened so fast out of nowhere, and I was completely taken by surprise. He was an inch or two taller and probably outweighed me by 30 or 40 pounds, so I did my best to stay on my feet. As we thrashed around, I got scraped on the edge of the wall and got pretty banged up all over, including my face. This deranged man was actually trying to injure me, prompting a zillion thoughts to flash through my mind. Mostly I could not believe that it was happening. The whole thing seemed fake. Rather than trying to separate myself from him, my strategy was to grab/hug him and tuck my head down and try to stay as close to him as possible, therefore preventing him from getting any distance from me so that he couldn’t cock his arm back and punch me with full force. Somehow, after maybe 10 or 20 seconds (which felt like an eternity), it ended. I don’t know how or why. Maybe someone pulled him away from me, or maybe he just stopped when he realized that it’s not cool to attack people for no reason.
It just so happened that the ball was sitting at my feet, so I picked it up and assessed the damage to various parts of my body, all of which were stinging and pulsating. After a moment, someone handed me my hat. Then I looked around for my mom, who thankfully was sitting in the next section behind a wall of people and hadn’t seen any of it. And then I noticed that the guy who’d attacked me was trying to make a quick exit with an older man, presumably his father. They rushed up the stairs, and as a security guard started heading down, they cut across the seats toward the next tunnel. I yelled at the guard to stop them, and sure enough, they were caught.
All the fans around me were like, “What the hell was that guy’s problem?” and “He just attacked you out of nowhere!” People asked if I was okay. Someone pointed out that my neck was bleeding. One guy said I should press charges, and several folks offered to be witnesses on my behalf. I overheard a few people mumbling stuff like, “Oh my god, That’s Zack Hample!” and “That’s the guy who got the A-Rod ball.” The whole thing was a bizarre spectacle, and all I wanted to do was hide in a bathtub full of ice.
More guards arrived along with high-ranking supervisors and a few police officers. The Orioles were in the middle of BP, so I didn’t want to leave the seats, but I had no choice. They led me up to the concourse to get an official statement from me, and once that was done, I was told to wait for the medical staff to examine me. Meanwhile the attacker and his father were standing 15 feet away from me! Why were we all being kept so close together? I didn’t want to look at them, but then I realized that for legal/safety reasons, it would be good for me to have photographs of them. Here they are:
As you can see, I’ve blurred/pixelated their faces to hide their identity — for now. I discussed pressing charges with stadium security. They told me that the guy who attacked me is mentally handicapped, and I was like, “So what? Of course he is. No sane person would do something like that,” but in the end I decided not to pursue that course of action. One of the highest-ranking supervisors told me that if I ever see these guys in my section in right field, I should immediately tell security, and they’ll be removed. That’s nice, I guess, although it’s disappointing that they’ll even be allowed back inside the stadium. But then again, if the Yankees banned people for fighting, they’d lose half their fans.
While the attacker stared off into space, his father glared at me as if *I* had done something wrong. I just looked at him and shrugged as if to say, “WTF?”
“He’s just trying to get ball like you or anybody else!” he said in his son’s defense.
I vaguely recognized these guys from a handful of games over the past few seasons, and the more I thought about it, it occurred to me that I once had an unpleasant encounter with the father. I’m pretty sure he yelled at me a couple of years ago after I had the nerve to drift near him for a home run during BP. He was like, “You have your spot, and I have mine! Come back over here again, and I’ll put you right on your ass.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
Anyway, several witnesses spoke to security on my behalf. Here’s one of them:
Here’s the contact info for another:
One of the guards had scribbled that down in his pad and let me take a photo in case I needed to follow up.
A few minutes later, the medical staff arrived and checked me out. They wanted me to head to the first aid room so they could clean my scrapes and prevent an infection. There were still about 20 minutes left in BP, so I asked if I could come see them again within the hour. They said that was fine but that I shouldn’t wait too much longer than that, so finally I got to head back down into the right field seats. Everyone wanted to talk to me, including the players. Miguel Gonzalez apologized for his unintentional role in the whole thing, and Brian Matusz (who has also recognized me for years) came over to discuss the incident.
In the photo above, do see the name Sean written down? That was one of the witnesses. Here I am with his son Cory, who had snagged a ball and wanted to get a photo with me:
I wasn’t in the mood to smile.
Toward the end of BP, I drifted to my right through an empty row for a high home run. As the ball was about to land, I flinched and turned away because it was within reach of the people in front of me. I didn’t want to get drilled by a deflection, so I stuck out my glove for a potential no-look, waist-high, back-handed catch, and whaddaya know? No one touched the ball, and I somehow caught it. That felt good, and I handed it to my mom:
After BP we headed to the first aid room. Here I am dealing with some paperwork:
The medical staff told me those were fingernail scratches.
After spending 15 minutes there, I tweeted about having gotten assaulted. Not surprisingly, the haters had a field day with it. Here’s a very small sample of the negative things people were saying:
Of course it didn’t end there. A bit later, when I tweeted a photo of my pulled pork sandwich . . .
. . . someone responded by asking how many little kids I knocked down to get it.
Shortly before game time, I posted a bunch of tweets describing the assault. I mentioned that I’d gotten punched in the face, which I fully believed at the time. My nose hurt so much that I couldn’t touch it, and my jaw was in so much pain that I struggled to eat. As it turned out, I don’t think I was actually punched. I do know that something hit my face. Maybe it was the guy’s elbow. Maybe it was a seat. The point is, I took a lot of heat for “falsely claiming” that I was punched, so let me say that I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone or make the fight seem extra dramatic. At the time, my whole face hurt like hell, and like I said, I definitely felt something hit me, so I assumed I’d gotten punched. That’s why I said it on Twitter. I’m sorry about that, but I assure you that everything here in this blog entry is 100 percent true and correct. I would gladly take a lie-detector test if anyone doubts my innocence (and wants to set it up).
Fast-forward to the top of the 3rd inning. With a runner on first base, Ryan Flaherty connected on a fastball from Ivan Nova . . .
. . . and sent a deep line drive in my direction. Here’s a generic screen shot of the ball heading toward the right field seats:
Here’s Flaherty rounding the bases:
And hey, look! Here I am hugging my mom with the ball tucked inside my glove:
Here are three blurry screen shots from a slow-motion replay that show me jumping and catching the ball:
Ever since snagging the A-Rod ball, I wondered what would happen if I caught another home run. Would the announcers recognize me and say anything?
The answer was yes.
During the slow-mo reply, Michael Kay said, “Wow, that is the same guy who caught A-Rod’s 3,000th hit — Zack Hample. That’s unbelievable.”
Former Yankee and current announcer Paul O’Neill (or was it John Flaherty?) then said, “Now is that just right place at the right time or is it placement out there? Does he have a scouting report — a spray chart?”
“I believe his season tickets are right there,” replied Michael. “He always sits there, but during batting practice and in some games, he said he actually studies where a guy might hit a ball. You don’t buy that, Paul?”
“Obviously it works,” said Paul. “He’s got a whole boatload of baseballs at home. He’s obviously got a lot of time on his hands.”
Then, after Caleb Joseph struck out, Michael added, “It was also misunderstood by people when he said that he had [8,000] balls that he caught at ballparks. Not in games! He goes early and collects baseballs during BP, so it’s been 8,000 total. He actually wrote a book about it. There he was snarin’ that one.”
Here’s one more screen shot of me and my mom:
I was in the process of (playfully) arguing with a fan who was (seriously) getting on my case about not throwing the ball back onto the field. Here’s the full video of the home run, along with the replay and commentary by the announcers:
Yes, I made a nice little jumping catch on it, but the only reason that was even necessary was that I misjudged the ball in the first place. Flaherty hit a rocket right at me. It was such a low line drive that when he first connected, I thought it might not even reach the seats, so I jumped up and moved down a step. That’s when I realized that not only was it going to be a home run, but it was going to carry several rows deep, so I moved back up and then had to jump. But wait! Here’s my excuse. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the ball shot off the bat at a speed of 111.2 miles per hour, which is extremely fast! To put that in perspective, Alex Rodriguez hit a 453-foot homer two innings later that “only” went 109.9 miles per hour. Okay? So forgive me for being fooled by the ball hanging up in the air. Also, the apex of Flaherty’s homer (meaning the greatest height that the ball ever sailed above the field) was only 51 feet. That’s in the bottom one percent of all the home runs hit in the major leagues this season.
Here’s a photo of the ball — my 34th lifetime game home run:
Here I am with it:
Given everything that had happened earlier, it felt GREAT to have caught a home run. Also, this was the first homer that my mom ever saw me catch in person. Double-celebration! Here we are with the ball:
This was our view of the field later in the game:
Here’s Flaherty and his homer on the jumbotron:
The Yankees ended up winning the game, 4-3, and it only took two hours and 33 minutes, which means my mom wasn’t totally wiped out at the end, which means she might actually join me for another game someday. Here we are on the subway heading back to Manhattan:
A few hours later, someone sent me screen shots (actual photos of their television) of me on ESPN. Evidently word had spread about my home run catch, and it reached the nightly news cycle. Here I am holding up the ball and doing my best “I’m not excited because it was a visiting team home run” face:
Here’s my mom with a big smile:
Here I am hugging her:
Even though the letter “s” was left off the end of my book title, I like the BIO BLAST. Is that a regular thing in ESPN highlights? I’d never seen that before.
Anyway, what a day, huh? The best quote came from my mom, who said, “It sure isn’t boring being with you.” That was sweet, but I could actually use some “boring” in my life right about now.
• 4 baseball at this game
• 453 balls in 61 games this season = 7.43 balls per game.
• 1,003 lifetime balls in 148 games at Yankee Stadium = 6.78 balls per game.
• 1,114 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 775 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball
• 276 consecutive Yankee home games with at least one ball
• 34 lifetime game home run balls (click here for the complete list)
• 8,259 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 22 donors for my fundraiser
• $156.54 pledged per game home run ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $190,479.66 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009