My experience at the Fort Bragg baseball game

Lots of stuff has been said and written about my presence at this game — the first in MLB history to be played on an active military base. Many media outlets have reported that I acquired my ticket illegally or somehow snuck in. That is simply not true. I have also faced a tremendous backlash for being there, the assumption being that I deprived a Soldier of the opportunity to attend the game. I tried to make sure not to do that, and if you read this entire blog entry, you’ll understand how it all went down. I do not intend to fuel the controversy by writing about Fort Bragg; I simply want to share my experience (with LOTS of photos coming up) because I know that lots of people are interested. Also, for the record, I do NOT get paid to write this blog. MLB gets money from the ads that appear on it. I do it simply because it’s fun to document my baseball adventures . . .

Okay, where to begin? Well, for starters, I had no idea what to expect at the security gate to Fort Bragg — one of 12 gates, I was told, as the base spans 500 square miles! In addition to my driver’s license, I had my passport and social security card. I was expecting a border-crossing level of interrogation, but because I was with an active duty member of the military, it was a simple process. The guard scanned his DoD ID and inspected my license, and that was it. No questions asked. He waved us through, and we were in.

Fort Bragg looked like any normal town with traffic lights, road signs, grass, trees, houses, buildings, banks, gas stations, parking lots, etc. There was even a mall. While the people there are remarkable, the post is remarkably ordinary (I suppose that provides our military heroes with some semblance of a normal life), but I was still excited to be there and look at everything as we drove around.

We had lots of time to spare, so my Soldier buddy — let’s call him Joe — gave me a tour, pointed out where he works, tried to figure out where we were supposed to park for the game, and asked what I wanted to eat for lunch. At one point, he pulled over on a beautiful residential street. He smoked a cigarette. I called my mom. A firetruck and an ambulance rumbled past, sirens blaring, but aside from that, everything was super laid-back.

That’s when it started to drizzle.

The sports-themed restaurant where we chose to eat was closed for the July 4th weekend, so we circled back to the mall. That’s when the drizzle turned into a steady rain. We ran inside, and once again, I was struck by how normal everything looked. We could have been at any mall in America. The only difference was that half the people were Soldiers dressed in uniforms. Part of me was nervous that I would be questioned for being there. The other part of me felt safer than ever and realized I needed to relax.

Joe had heard that there were shuttle buses that would take people from our designated parking lot to the stadium starting at 4pm. That was good because the stadium was going to open at 5pm, and we wanted to get there nice and early.

After a five-minute ride, we were greeted by a stadium employee (volunteer?) who gave us a quick speech about safety at the game. Here he is telling us that if we had any problems, we should look for people wearing the same hat and shirt that he had:

2_people_on_the_bus

As you can see in the photo above, people were dressed in normal/civilian clothes. That’s because it was a weekend. Soldiers were not required to be in their uniforms, and many of the attendees were family members or guests of Soldiers. Like I said, everything was pretty chill.

When we got off the bus, we headed toward the right field gate entrance:

3_walking_to_the_right_field_gate_entrance

Then we passed through a small opening in the trees:

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I nearly gasped when I saw the stadium in the distance. (See those teeny light towers poking up?) I couldn’t believe that I was really looking at it.

Here’s what I saw next:

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There were dozens of signs/flags along the walkway, honoring members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who had served in the military, many of whom had sacrificed prime years of their careers to do so. Just thinking about that was humbling.

Eventually the walkway led everyone to a merchandise store . . .

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. . . and soon after that, I got my first glimpse of the gates/entrance:

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There were three sets of employees. The first set (see the woman up above in the tan shorts?) simply welcomed everyone, the second set asked for our tickets, and the third set checked our bags and made sure we didn’t cause any beeps when walking through the metal detectors.

That was it.

People have accused me of sneaking in and/or bribing security. That’s beyond ridiculous. Ask anyone who attended the game if they had to show ID or if they got interrogated when entering the stadium. I assure you the answer is “no.” It just wasn’t like that, so don’t believe anything you hear from anyone who wasn’t actually there.

I forgot to mention that it had poured during lunch. I didn’t think there was any chance of the Braves and Marlins taking batting practice, and I was nervous about the game itself being rained out. Two days earlier, there was such a huge threat of rain that MLB announced that because the schedules were so tight, there would, unfortunately, be no chance to make up the game at Fort Bragg. That being said, it was *very* lucky to only have to deal with a bunch of muddy puddles inside the stadium. Check out the walkway behind the batter’s eye in center field:

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That’s pretty much what it looked everywhere behind the seating areas, and no, I’m not complaining. It’s incredible that this stadium got built as quickly as it did. Certain areas were pristine while others suffered a bit because of the elements. No big deal. But enough about that. I’m sure you wanna see the field itself, right? Here you go — a view from the “berm” in left-center:

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I truly could not believe that there was batting practice.

Prior to this game, I had been to 51 different major league stadiums and snagged at least one baseball at all of them. Obviously I wanted to keep that streak intact, and I also wanted to be extra generous — more on that in a bit, but for now, check out the jumbotron in deep left field:

10_jumbotron_showing_batting_practice

All it showed was guys taking their cuts in the cage. I liked that because it can be tough to identify players during BP.

After a little while, I got a ball thrown to me by Chase d’Arnaud. (There weren’t any kids standing near me when I caught it, and the grown-ups hadn’t been asking for it either. d’Arnaud threw it to me from about 100 feet away, so if I hadn’t been there, the ball definitely would’ve been tossed back to the bucket in shallow center field.) This made me VERY happy, so even though I was a sweaty mess, I posted a selfie on Twitter:

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As soon as I posted that, I started writing my next tweet to announce something that I had thought of earlier in the day:

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I ended up getting bashed because people assumed I donated money only as a reaction to the negativity on Twitter, so please allow me to point something out . . .

Look at the time stamp on my tweet about snagging that ball. Now look at the time stamp on my tweet about the donation. They were posted two minutes apart, so just to be clear: long before the internet got angry about my presence at this game, I had decided to do this. I had asked Joe what his favorite military charity is. He’s the one who came up with AMVETS.org (I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of them until he mentioned them and I looked them up), so that’s why I picked them.

It would have been great to have someone filming me all day, not just for the sake of posting it on YouTube, but because the footage would have cleared me from another slew of accusations — more specifically that I was pushing kids around to get baseballs.

Let’s talk about this for a minute or two, okay? For starters, that is NOT what I do or who I am as a person. Contrary to the many false accusations that have come my way over the years, I have NEVER knocked down a single person, young or old, in more than 1,400 MLB games. I pride myself on being super-careful and respectful, and I can’t believe that I have to defend myself all over again, but whatever, I’m doing it because there are lots of people hearing about me for the first time. If you’re one of them, hello and thank you for reading my blog! If you’re willing to suspend judgment a bit longer, please check out my YouTube channel. You’ll find lots of videos of me snagging baseballs at various stadiums, and you’ll get a sense of my personality and what I’m all about. I particularly like this video from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Here’s another one of my favorites from Turner Field in Atlanta, and if you still have more time to spare, watch this short documentary on me that VICE Sports did last season after I snagged Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit. It really explains a lot.

One more thing about knocking kids down . . . do you really think that I would have gotten away with that? ON AN ACTIVE MILITARY BASE?! I would estimate that two-thirds of the crowd were non-military civilians (lots of families, kids, and friends), but still, that means I was surrounded by active duty members of the Army at all times. If I did anything bad to even one child, I would’ve probably gotten my ass kicked by his/her father, and if that type of behavior persisted, I would’ve been hauled out of there by the Military Police. Think about that. You’re basically insulting the military and stadium security by claiming that I got away with doing anything inappropriate or illegal.

And now let’s move on, huh? I did get someone to film me for a minute. Check out this screen shot of me giving a ball to a little kid:

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You may have noticed that I was wearing a different hat than the red one in the photo I tweeted. Quick explanation: I own caps and shirts of all 30 MLB teams and often change outfits at stadiums because it helps me get toss-ups from the players. So yeah, in the screen shot above, I was wearing a Braves cap, and in the screen shot below, in which I was watching helplessly as a Giancarlo Stanton homer sailed completely over the berm and nearly went inside the open passenger window of a semi that was parked back there, I was wearing a Marlins cap:

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Here’s what it looked like behind the berm . . .

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. . . and here’s the berm itself:

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WOW!!! Right? What an amazing place to move around and try to catch home run balls. (What an amazing place in general, just to chill and watch the game.)

Speaking of balls, I don’t have any action shots of myself, so you’ll have to settle for a quick rundown. After d’Arnaud hooked me up, I got a toss-up from Braves pitcher Ian Krol and then caught a couple of home runs. Jeff Francoeur hit the first one; I’m not sure who hit the second, but I can tell you that I gave away all of my BP balls, mostly to kids, but also to a few grown-ups. At one point, an usher walked over and asked if I might be able to catch a ball for him to give to his brother who wasn’t able to attend the game because he was currently deployed. I told him I’d give him the next one that I got — and I did. And he was thrilled.

Soon after the Marlins took the field, I got A.J. Ramos to hook me up from quite a distance. I was hoping he’d throw it hard — he likes to do that — but he gave me a gentle lob instead. My next two baseballs were both home runs by Giancarlo Stanton. I caught the first one knee-high on the dead run in left-center, and I caught the next one under more routine circumstances in straight-away left. That brought my total for the day to seven baseballs, meaning that at the very least, I was going to make a $700 donation to AMVETS.org. That’s a lot of money, but there was still one more group of BP. And I was glad to contribute.

My 8th ball was tossed by Jose Fernandez, and my 9th ball was a home run by Marcell Ozuna, which I caught on the fly in left-center. That was it for BP.

If I had brought all the materials for my glove trick with me, I probably could’ve retrieved a couple of balls out of this gap behind the outfield wall:

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Why didn’t I bring the glove trick? Because I figured I wasn’t going to be allowed to use a device like that. Oh well.

I should mention that there were LOTS of baseballs to go around. The players, not surprisingly, were generous with toss-ups, and there were times when I had to ask three or four children, “Did you get a ball yet?” before I found one who said no. And then, to be clear, I would hand one to them. I always try to make sure that as many different kids as possible receive baseballs.

As you may have noticed, the berm was sloped, so whenever a child at the back dropped a ball, it rolled down and gently hit the back of someone’s foot. This probably happened a dozen times.

After BP I resisted the urge to get some shaved ice:

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Instead of eating, I wanted to focus on wandering around the stadium and taking lots of photos. Here’s what it looked like behind the left field bleachers — ESPN’s tent is on the left and the foul pole is just out of view on the right:

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Here’s the Marlins bullpen beside a merchandise tent:

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The walkway in the left field corner was buzzing:

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I liked the Guest Services setup — simple but effective:

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Here’s what it looked like behind the bleachers along the left field foul line:

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I kept walking toward home plate and passed the Marlins’ clubhouse:

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There was excellent signage. Not even kidding. I notice things like that and appreciate it when it’s done well. That said, here’s a stadium directory:

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The walkway behind the seats on the 1st base side was particularly muddy:

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The ushers were checking tickets at all the tunnels, but on several occasions, they let me take a quick peek at the field. That was nice of them.

Here’s a tunnel that led to a disabled seating area along the right field foul line:

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Here’s what the field looked like from that spot:

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Very nice! I was so excited for the game but there was still another half-hour remaining before the first pitch.

Moments later, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell walked along the warning track, tossing and handing out Braves caps:

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I got one and gave it to a woman sitting nearby.

Here’s what the right field corner looked like:

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I was tempted to stay there and try to catch a foul ball, but eh. That didn’t seem like a fun way to experience this game.

After walking all the way around the outfield again to the left field corner, I spotted this through a chain-link fence:

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Two seconds after taking that photo, I heard a voice say, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

I turned around and was surprised to see a Military Police Officer with a walkie-talkie. I explained apologetically that I was just taking a photo of the huge American Flag, and then I showed it to him on my phone. He said it was no problem but that he’d gotten a report of someone potentially tampering with the fence, so he asked me to step away from it.

I was unsettled at first but that quickly changed to feeling safe and appreciative. Although I didn’t feel smothered at any point by security, there was clearly an incredible presence and watchfulness, so let me just say THANK YOU to the Soldiers and volunteers who helped to make this event happen and who kept everything running smoothly. Everyone did a tremendous job, and I found myself marveling at the logistics throughout the night.

Here’s something else worth marveling at:

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Outstanding.

Everyone was in such a great, festive mood.

The Soldiers who’d been carrying the huge American flag had now moved inside the stadium:

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The pregame ceremony had not yet begun, so while I was standing around, I got another baseball. In fact, if you scroll back up to my photo of the left field bullpen, you can see it on the grass. I noticed at the last second that Braves catching coach Brian Schneider had walked out and retrieved it. Just before he was about to place it in the ball bag, I called out to him and got him to toss it to me. Normally I don’t congratulate myself for getting baseballs and giving them away, but given the amount of negativity that’s swirling, it should be noted that if I hadn’t been there, NO ONE would have gotten that ball, but because I was there, it ended up in the hands of a child 30 seconds later — and a Veterans charity was due to receive an extra $100.

Fifteen minutes before game time, Marlins starter Adam Conley began warming up in the bullpen:

34_adam_conley_warming_up

In case you can’t tell, he made a few throws by running from the mound and taking a crow hop. I’ve seen pitchers do that before, but it still looks funny. I wanted to continue watching him getting ready for the game, but I wanted to see the on-field ceremony even more. A friendly usher in the left field bleachers let me enter the section for a few minutes so that I could take some photos, like this:

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What a beautiful sight! It made me think of my father, Stuart Hample (1926 – 2010), who served in the Navy on a submarine base in World War II. His service was a great source of pride, not just for him but my entire family. I wished that he had been here with me at Fort Bragg, and in spirit, he was. It was a touching moment for me, punctuated by a flyover featuring four helicopters from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division:

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FYI, the two helicopters on the side were UH-60 Black Hawks, the one in front was an AH-64 Apache, the one in the back was a CH-47 Chinook. Check out this amazing video that they filmed and posted on YouTube.

This might sound strange, but at the start of the game, I actually spent a few minutes here:

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In the photo above, the big structure on the right is the home plate grandstand. You can see the protective screen to the left and down a bit. I was hoping that one of the left-handed batters would send a foul ball flying back in my direction, but I quickly gave up. It wasn’t fun to be missing the action, and it seemed like a lousy spot — set too far back from the field. Same deal on the 1st base side of home plate. There was lots of stuff in my way between the field and walkway, so foul balls seemed possible at best, not likely.

Ultimately I headed to my seat on the 3rd base side. (Joe, meanwhile, had wandered off to catch up with a few friends.) This was my view in the top of the 2nd inning:

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Not bad. And it was a total fluke that I ended up there. I didn’t know where my ticket was going to be until a day before the game. That’s when I saw this seating chart for the first time.

Side note: I’d been so busy all day (and so engaged in the present) that I never spent more than a few seconds on my phone at any given moment. Yeah, I’d been posting some stuff to Twitter, but I didn’t see any of the replies coming in. I figured I’d catch up later, answer people’s questions, etc. It wasn’t until I started getting texts from a few friends that I realized something was amiss, and even then I didn’t realize the full extent of it. As it turned out, my presence at this game was turning into a national media frenzy, and for the most part, I was still oblivious. The more people tried to tell me about what was going on, the more I ignored my phone. As stupid and naive as this may sound, I was just trying to enjoy myself at a baseball game, so I did my best to tune out the distractions.

<sigh>

After each of the first two innings, I noticed that Marlins 3rd baseman Martin Prado had tossed the 3rd-out balls into the crowd. He wasn’t the fielder who had recorded those outs; he was simply the designated 3rd-out-ball tosser-upper. Some teams do that; there’s one guy who gives out all the balls during the game. On the Yankees it’s Didi Gregorius, on the Rangers it’s Elvis Andrus, and so on. I hoped that Prado would toss one to me at some point, and when my old buddy Chase d’Arnaud took a called strike three to end the 3rd inning, I figured I had no shot. Usually, when an inning ends with a strikeout, the catcher tosses the ball into the crowd at the home-plate end of the dugout, but for some reason (perhaps because there was protective netting here at Fort Bragg blocking those seats), J.T. Realmuto fired the ball to Prado, who then walked into foul territory and tossed it right to me. Check it out:

39_ball9093_fort_bragg_commemorative

As excited as I was to have gotten that ball, no one else around me seemed to care. No one said a word about it or even asked to see it. It was actually kind of strange, so I posted that photo on Twitter, which unintentionally fanned the flames.

This was my 11th ball of the day, and I’d given nine of them away. I still had the one from d’Arnaud in my possession — a ball that I really would have loved to keep, as it was my first ball at Fort Bragg Field, but a promise is a promise. I had announced that I was going to give away all of my baseballs except for one, so I figured I’d hang onto the one I’d just gotten. A little while later, I gave the d’Arnaud ball to a very appreciative boy and then headed up the stairs to the last row. Here’s what it looked like from that spot:

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By the 6th inning, I was starving, so I took a little walk . . .

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. . . and ended up here:

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The concession stands weren’t giving out bottles, so all the drinks were served in paper cups. I got chicken tenders and fries and some ice water for about $13.

Late in the game, I headed out to the berm in left-center field:

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That’s when I noticed this:

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That was the “Prisoner of War/Missing in Action chair of honor.” Here’s an article about it. I regret that I missed the official between-inning dedication, but I hadn’t heard when that was going to take place. Thankfully I was at least able to see it and take a photo to share here with everyone.

As for the game itself, Adam Conley’s crow hops must’ve worked because he pitched six scoreless innings. J.T. Realmuto hit the game’s only home run in the top of the 9th. It landed in front of the batter’s eye and got tossed up to the fans standing along the side railing. The Braves didn’t score until the bottom of the 9th, but their rally fell short — final score: Marlins 5, Braves 2. Here’s the final score on the jumbotron:

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Officially, this was a Braves home game — fans did the Tomahawk Chop, and there were other between-inning promotions straight out of Turner Field — but it didn’t feel like a Braves game. It felt like some bizarro/alternate baseball universe, and I mean that in the best of ways.

I took a few more photos before heading out. Here’s what the batter’s eye looked like:

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Here’s the berm after nearly everyone else had left:

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Here’s the last photo I took inside the stadium:

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What a special night and an incredible experience. Many thanks to Major League Baseball for making it happen and to all military service members and their families, past and present. Although I now realize that my presence at this game was a tremendous source of controversy, that doesn’t diminish the fact that it was truly an honor to set foot inside Fort Bragg and attend this historic game.

Are you still with me? Good because I have a few more things to share. Ready to see what the tickets looked like? I forgot to photograph mine at the game, so here’s the photo that Joe sent to get me pumped up after a mutual friend had first put us in touch:

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It’s hard to tell in that photo, but the places where it says “ADMIT ONE” had shiny gold stamping. Very snazzy. Did you notice that the gate opening time was printed right under the date? I didn’t notice that at first and ended up wasting an embarrassing amount of time trying to find that info on the internet. Duh. And one more thing — there were no barcodes! The ticket takers at the stadium tore off the stubs at the bottom the old-fashioned way.

Now, about that donation to AMVETS.org . . .

I had announced on Twitter that I would write a check, but again: duh. This is 2016. Who writes checks? Instead, when I woke up on July 4th, I made the $1,100 donation through their website, and then I tweeted about it, just to let everyone know that I wasn’t BS’ing:

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As I mentioned earlier, this angered lots of people who missed my earlier tweet and assumed I only donated because things had gotten ugly. Other people were upset because I was supposedly trying to get sympathy by mentioning my dad. (He’s my dad, and I miss him like crazy and still love him, and he served in the Navy, and I think about him a lot. I refuse to apologize for any of that.) Even more people were pissed that I hadn’t picked other military charities.

Why were all these people so mad? Let’s put it this way — the media coverage certainly didn’t help. Look at the headlines that appeared when Googling my name the following day:

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What is “illegal” about receiving a ticket from a Soldier? How does receiving a ticket from a Soldier constitute as “crashing” the game? And my goodness, there was a petition to ban me from all stadiums?! I understand now that I showed poor judgment in attending the game — I posted a long apology on Twitter — but I really don’t think I did anything illegal. In fact, according to the many Soldiers who got in touch with me, there was lots of confusion about the tickets at Fort Bragg. Allow me to quote someone whom I met at the game and later emailed:

According to a source at Fort Bragg’s MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Department, the Fort Bragg agency tasked with providing ticketing and community outreach to the Fort Bragg game, there were major planning and coordination miscues with the distribution of tickets. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets went unaccounted for and were not provided to military units for distribution until days before the game; this sadly led to many tickets going unused. For tickets that were distributed by units to Soldiers, many were not properly documented and Soldiers were not provided guidance of restrictions on their use and transferability. These miscues also led to many Soldiers not receiving parking passes for the game and MWR frantically posting Facebook announcements the day of the game to disseminate information. Adding to the confusion, the MWR employees at the post Leisure Travel office were not provided with any information on ticketing. As this office serves as the main customer service point of contact for MWR, Soldiers and family members were not able to receive information concerning the details of the game and the tickets; in some cases, incorrect information was provided.”

I had initially tried to buy a ticket in the weeks leading up to the game, but that didn’t work because no one had tickets. Lots of people made promises, but no one could actually deliver. I realized that the best, safest, and most respectful approach was to try to find someone who knew someone who’d bring me along for free as their guest. That’s when I posted a YouTube video (which I deleted after securing a ticket) asking for help, and THAT is ultimately what worked. Joe’s entire unit had received tickets, or at least all the guys who wanted them. They never had to sign for them or enter the lottery or put their names or guests’ names on a list or vow not to transfer them, so he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong by helping me out. He received a pair of tickets and had no idea what to do with the extra one. He invited his girlfriend, but she wasn’t interested in the game, so when he heard about me from a mutual friend, he thought it’d be fun to bring me along and hang for the day. I’m sorry the story isn’t more exciting, but that’s really all there is to it. And let me stress again (as I did in my YouTube video) that I never ever EVER wanted to deprive a Soldier of the chance to attend this game. I only wanted to go if I could find someone who had a ticket that wasn’t going to be used.

That said, I was still enemy No. 1, and the hatred and negativity reached new heights. Here are a few of the emails I received, including one that compares me to Hitler and another which disrespects my dead father:

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There were many more emails that I deleted without taking screen shots.

On a positive note, I’ve received lots of supportive emails, including a bunch from people in or connected to the military. These mean a LOT to me. Here’s one:

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Here’s another:

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And another (from someone who sent a follow-up message explaining that he contacted me from his military email account so that when I shared it, people would really know that he was a soldier):

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And yet another:

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I have also continued to receive a steady flow of emails from kids who think I’m a decent guy. I’ll just share one of these for now, but if you want to read a whole lot more, check out the fan mail page on my website. Here you go:

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Dear Nic-

Thanks for the kind email and for watching my videos! There’ll be a lot more of them coming this summer, so stay tuned. Also, keep in mind that thirteen-year-olds can be incredibly cruel, though I’ve found that grown-ups can be pretty crappy too. The more people make fun of you, the more insecure they are, so really it just reflects badly on them. You have no idea how much I got made fun of at your age — and still do. Just stay strong and keep doing what you love. Become an expert. Teach others. Perhaps you can even make a living doing it. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, you can hold your head up high — and the last time I checked, loving baseball stadiums is no crime. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to talk to me about it. Be well and take care and hopefully we can meet in person someday . . . at a stadium you’ve helped to design.

-Zack

On a final note, I just want to say thanks for reading this blog entry. It was such an amazing and humbling experience to be there with our military heroes. I hope MLB and other sports leagues continue to have events like this to honor these brave servants of our country.

39 comments

  1. Adam Bradford

    Thank you for sharing this awesome event with everyone! There were millions of people across the globe who would have loved to attend and by you posting this they are able to share in the experience. Great reporting and documenting!

  2. Justino

    People ALWAYS find some way to be mad at you. You did absolutely nothing wrong.

  3. Grant

    Zack,

    Really cool to hear about your experience man… I can’t imagine what it felt like for you having this incredible experience, that I can tell meant the world to you , being torn down by the media and the misinformed.. Honestly, seeing both sides of this story( this blog post and what you’ve said on Twitter, versus certain media and to specifically name someone against you, Marlins man.) it is very frustrating to see people .. And mass amounts of people tear you down and say the horrible things that have been said. A lot of these people (on Twitter and such) claim to be US servicemen, and as a US citizen among these people, it hurts to think that men and women fighting wars for us, can be so quick to tear another one of us down in the way that has occurred… It’s truly despicable, have a little respect right?… I don’t know, I guess it’s just hard for some people to completely inform themselves about a situation before understanding it.. Also, I would say that I’m not exactly surprised about the media (news outlets and reports..etc.), to them, it’s all about having a story that can, in the end, make money for their groups…….. and what makes money these days?… Drama!!! Finally I commend you, because you don’t seem to be backing down as one does when receiving hate like this, I hope you keep on keeping on with YouTube and your baseball passion! You have a good thing going, don’t let this keep you from doing what you love and continue to bring us along the way!
    …. Wow this was long, hope you see it,

    Good luck Zack!

  4. Corey

    Hey Zack-

    First off, I just want to send along my support for the hard time you’re undoubtably going through, and the vicious hate people are spewing about you. I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog and watching your videos. You’re a passionate baseball fan and since very few people that I know are, it’s nice to know people are out there that follow the game on this level. I met you briefly in Cincinnati, and know you are a good guy who doesn’t push anyone, much less kids, to make a catch. I became a ballhawk last year, and have loved every minute of it. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think one thing I think might help your reputation is to stop asking for toss ups man. That’s really the one thing I don’t like doing and I think is left for kids. People at the park seem to roll their eyes too. It’s one thing if it’s a favorite player or a unique situation, but collecting several per game seems pretty silly at this point. I would also like to see you maybe give most if not all routine balls you snag (not counting homers or foul balls). Also, I would keep away from Twitter. It seems like very few positive things come from that idiotic platform. Your best kept reaching fans on this blog and YouTube. Anyway, I hope thing blow over soon and your able to get back to doing what you love. Hope to run into you again sometime soon. Stay positive.

  5. Kevin

    Great read. I’ve been following your journey through social media for somewhere around a year now. From everything I’ve seen, anyone throwing shade at you has been people who appear to be incredibly jealous of what you experience and wishing their own life wasn’t so meaningless. I’ve read a lot (regrettably) from Marlins Man’s perspective on this, and i’m 100% convinced that he was only upset that he wasn’t there directly behind home plate to get everyone’s attention as always.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t regret going to the game. You were someone’s guest, as were probably thousands of others. I hope you kept the one commemorative ball from the game, even though you said you were giving them all away.

    I get that some people were livid that you were ballhawking, but I personally am not outgoing. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life, so I go to a game hoping to get a ball, but am not comfortable yelling for one or doing the dirty work that is required. I imagine there were plenty of people like that there, so you doing that dirty work and then hooking them up was probably their only shot. Anyway, just a few thoughts from someone who see’s little reason for anyone to be so harsh towards you.

  6. You stink

    I hope you are banned from all ballparks. I once saw you lean over a short fence and pick up a ball that was tossed over for a kid but thrown too short for him to get it. It was like 2 years ago.

  7. Eric

    People have different issues in life. I know yours isn’t publicly displayed. I’m sorry and I feel bad for you zack, keep ball chasing and being a social media addict. I only hope you have a happy family.

    -Soldier in Iraq.

  8. Amy

    Hi Zack – I knew who you were before this happened. Was pretty indifferent. I go to a lot of Brewers games & getting baseballs is not my thing at all, BUT, to each his/her own! Live and let live. I support you in this whole Fort Bragg thing. I believe you, and I think other people – Marlins Man in particular – are creating this huge drama for reasons only known to them. You can’t do better if you don’t know better, and it’s very obvious you had no idea that going this game would cause such an uproar. You made a mistake and you apologized for it. End of story. People are being very judgmental and self-righteous. It’s not right, but it’s unfortunately an every day occurrence on social media. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of hate as well – I empathize with you. Sorry you’ve had to go through this! Keep on keepin’ on :) And if you’re ever at Miller Park, feel free to come say hi! Though you won’t catch any balls where I am :) Best wishes to you! Persevere.

  9. sergelang

    Zack, here is the reason people are pissed off and don’t like you: You think everything is about you. You write about how great this event was for *you* to experience. Yippy. This event wasn’t for you. This was an event put together at great expense for a very particular group of people. They could have bought out the entire right field line of Turner field and given out a few thousand tickets to military people, and given free bus rides and plane tickets down to Atlanta. They could have. They didn’t. They built a venue on a military base, bringing baseball TO the people they wanted to cater to. To make it easier for THEM to experience a game. So THEY could have an experience that was ONLY for them.

    You looked at this event, and you thought “wow, *I* need to go there*. *I* need to experience this. *I* want to catch a home run. How great was this experience *for me*.

    THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. The whole world doesn’t revolve around you and what you want. It doesn’t matter what you give to charity afterwards. It doesn’t matter if you apologize. You fail to recognize the core of the issue here. That is why people are still pissed off, that is why people want you banned. It is because you want to take from other people so that you may experience. It doesn’t matter what you do after you experienced it, it doesn’t matter if you give it away right afterwards. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you think this all is about you. Until you finally recognize that, people will continually be angered by you.

    Apologies will never make up for what you lack in wisdom.

  10. Marc Miller

    Zack, Hope you had a good time. Photos looked amazing! Hit me up when your in Cleveland! We’ll roll to a tribe game together and get some kids some baseballs. Anyone who is mad at you, is just mad they weren’t there themselves. Keep on Keepin on

  11. Michael

    I gladly signed all those positions to ban you from all MLB parks. What you did was disrespectful and childish but iv come to expect nothing less from reading your posts prior to this. I hope you get what you deserve. Unbelievable that you did this (well not really) but even worse that you see no problem with it. Why don’t you post the tweets from the disabled veterans that said they entered the lottery to win tickets but did not get the opportunity.

  12. RoxAnne Crouch Irvin

    Hello Zack, Thanks for sharing your pics of the game. I truly enjoyed them all. My son is a solider at Fort Bragg and I have been on base twice. He was going to go but we had a baby shower back home (Detroit, MI) for him and his wife on this day. I hate he missed it and I will be sharing these pics with him. When he told me of your story I had to read it for myself. I am so glad you got to attend this game and hate you are catching so much BS from it.. but move forward with your head high. Thank you for your donation, very generous of you.

  13. Will

    Wow. So even after receiving loads of hate from baseball fans and media outlets everywhere, you still have the audacity to gloat and brag about your trip… You know, if you were truly sorry for attending and taking a soldier’s seat, you wouldn’t have posted an almost 6,000 word blog entry describing how incredible a time you had.

    You, sir, are a piece of work.

  14. Pissed off zack hample supporter

    You people that are hating are such idiots. To the “will” fellow, it says that the soldier was going to give it to his girlfriend who didn’t like baseball, which means it was completely innocent. YOU sir a piece of work!

  15. Nick Horowitz

    Hey Zack,
    I was searching for your new blog entries after catching up with you the other day at Yankee Stadiums when I stumbled upon many news articles involving “the man who steals balls from kids that attended the Fort Bragg game”. After reading your blog entry and Twitter exchange with Marlins Man, I completely support you and your explanation for attending the game at Fort Bragg. I have no words for the people and their ridiculous, unnecessary hate for you. Keep doing what you are doing because kids like me and people all over the world love what you do. Btw, Marlins Man is probably that guy that got bullied in high school.

    From,
    your friend Nick Horowitz

  16. Joel Wayne Hamlet

    Some apology. You’re making yourself out to be a victim here. Also, just because your dad was military doesn’t mean you “get it” or understand. Say sorry and let it go! No need to tell a story about how misunderstood you are. I bet your dad would be so proud that you snuck into a game and gloated about it, and continue to gloat about it…..NOT! I have so much more to say but I’m just going to leave it alone. You sicken me.

  17. Will

    Dear “pissed off zack hample supporter”-

    Wow, the amount of times that someone can be so incorrect in such a short paragraph is incredible… I could write a response longer than this blog as to why you are so misinformed, but your lack of knowledge combined with your disgusting reasoning tell me to not waste my time.

  18. Carson

    Thanks for clearing this up. I believe you completely. People are just jealous that they didn’t get the opportunity you did. Don’t listen to them. You did absolutely nothing wrong. People need to stop defaming people and get along. Everyone is always trying to accuse the next person of something. Keep doing what you’re doing. You have tremendous support. I love your videos and hope to meet you someday. You’re a tremendous idol. Don’t let the others slander get to you.

  19. Scott

    Zack,
    If you are truly sorry, I would suggest donating all the money you would have spent on your baseball trips this year to veteran charities. Think about it. Veterans are respected because of the sacrifices they have made. What sacrifice have you made in your life? You are in your 30s and have done nothing other than troll around baseball games. SACRIFICE YOUR LOVE OF BASEBALL FOR THE VETERANS.

  20. Jonah Platt

    Attention Zack Hample haters:

    While the hate may be plentiful, it doesn’t do anything. Everyone keeps saying “delete your account”, “stop going to games”, etc. What personal gain do you get from telling someone off one time? Are you gonna get it printed and framed so you will remember this moment forever? There’s no point because it didn’t do ANYTHING!

  21. everythingtwinsballhawk

    I’m sorry you had to go through all this. It’s tough being criticized for everything you do and not being able to defend yourself. I tried my best to defend you on social media but ultimately gave up. I loved seeing all of these pictures from this game. I’m glad you were there to document this special occasion!

  22. naptownosfan

    Zack

    My sincere apologies, butI don’t believe a word of this. My advice to you is to delete everything- this blog post, every post you have made on Twitter about the Fort Bragg game except for a general apology. Explain nothing, pin that tweet and stay off social media for a few months.

    You may have apologized, but continuing to grandstand and “explain yourself” does nothing but continue to add to the gigantic hole that you dug for yourself by attending this game and bragging about it in the first place.

    If you were truly remorseful:

    1.) This blog never would have been updated to include 52 stadiums visited. If you were truly sorry, then this event never happened and should be stricken from your records.

    2.) Since you updated that number, I am sure you updated your baseball collected total. Again, I suggest that those numbers be stricken from your record, because from all of your posts, it is clear that you do care about your numbers. While I do not agree, I can respect that. You should not have been at this game, therefore, these numbers and the stadium visit should not count.

    3.) Like I said above, remove all of these “apologies” because they aren’t truthful. Continuing to make excuses for yourself and say that you want to share these events with everyone is a lie. The media coverage all day, from seeing Braves players at the parachute facilities, Marlins players at the hospital to the engagement from the Braves, Marlins, 82nd Airborne and Fort Bragg official Twitter pages got us closer to the action than you did. Don’t use that as a crutch.

    This event was not for you, I am pretty sure that”s been told to you ad naseum. My job does work with the Naval Academy, I understand access to a military facility, and I also understand the events put on that are just for the Midshipmen. I have known many Midshipmen throughout the years- I went to high school with some, others I knew from church and others were my co-workers and subordinates. Never once did I abuse their friendship to get on base for a special event where I even knew I wouldn’t be ratted out. It’s just not right, and all that effort was expanded for the troops and their families. If this guy had an extra ticket, he should have turned it in to be given out to someone else.

    Unlike a lot of other people, I won’t pile on about other things except one. I have seen you at Camden Yards before from a distance, and as of right now, I have never seen you tackle a kid or steal a ball from someone, but I’ve also never seen you give one up, and your MyGameBalls account doesn’t come close to giving away even half of the balls you get from each game. If you want to gain back respect from people, I would suggest that change. You have 9,000 baseballs, it’s time to stop collecting and start giving back 10-fold. Start with a couple inner city teams that could use them to defray costs for playing, and go from there. Start giving more than a quarter of the balls you get each day at the stadium.

    Also, I really enjoyed reading Watching Baseball Smarter. As I said above, I have seen you from a distance a few times at Camden Yards, as I am a 29 game season ticket holder. I take a lot of my former co-workers, friends and current colleagues to games with me, and I have had a few people who have never seen a baseball game before read some of the book and they come away with great understanding and learn quite a bit from it. This would be another area where I think you could give back in a huge way.

  23. Christian

    You should check out Montreal for next years last game before the season starts, the jays have played there the past 2 years it seems like a nice place

  24. reservist

    I bet “Joe” was a woman. To help make up for the mistake consider sacrificing “one weekend a month, two weeks a year.”

  25. yacov

    zack, its crazy that people says you push over kids and do mean thing you and i (and many others) know that it is not true as you recall i met you twice and you were very nice to me both times.

  26. Kevin

    Everyone who has a problem with you going has failed to realize that not every person at the game was Military. I would be my entire next paycheck that there are people who went that were not even family aside from Zack.

    The point being, Zack didn’t steal a seat away from any other military member any more than those people could have. On the other hand, it sounds like the ticketing to this was pretty jumbled which I believe could have been the case. People are being exceptionally vile towards someone they do not know over something that they had little to no reliable knowledge of.

    I’m not a Zack apologist, but give the guy a break. How much have YOU people donated to the military? At least he made a donation. People like you haters are the problem. The guy has apologized and whether you believe it or not is your problem. It didn’t affect you that he went to the game and nothing he does affects you now. Let the soldiers of Fort Bragg go after him if they feel cheated. Funny thing is, all the people hating on him are people who have no connection to the game. Or you’ve seen a tweet from someone you don’t know, claiming to be a victim of him going. That’s rich. Considering the other thousands of guests who were also occupying seats.

  27. Tyj

    “How does receiving a ticket from a Soldier constitute as ‘crashing’ the game?”

    Because you weren’t supposed to be there! You were an uninvited guest and you showed up anyway. That’s what “crashing” means.

    Your forced apologies do nothing to mitigate the fact that a soldier (you know, one of the people for whom this event was intended) was unable to attend this game because of you.

    Please go away.

  28. Zack Hample

    Dear everyone (and yes, I do mean EVERYone — even the people who have criticized me), thank you all for the comments. I’ve read them all twice. Many of you have said such kind/supportive things that I’m overwhelmed with appreciation. To those of you who are still upset, I understand your frustration and anger. I really do. I’m angry at myself for using bad judgment and becoming part of the story when this game should not have been about me. I will always feel *terrible* about that, and in time, I hope you will forgive me. Thank you for reading this blog entry. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to keep the comments coming. I promise I will see them all.

  29. Alex

    Everybody makes mistakes. You obviously know you did and I hope everyone forgives you like I do. Lot of respect for admitting you are wrong. Hope to meet you sometime

  30. Adam w

    Hey zack,
    Would just like to say that I support what you do and I’m on your side in regards to going to the game. In this world it’s hard to find something you truly love, and when you do you cant let it go. I think it’s great what you do with giving balls to kids, donating lots to charities etc. I know you get some hate, but on Twitter that’s the norm for a person with a following. The silent majority is on your side and is enjoying watching your journey. It’s inspiring to see a guy turn something he loves into a career and is something that I’ll keep in mind as I move on with my life. Keep doing great things and don’t let the “haters” stop you or change your outlook on what you love.

  31. Nick G

    This backlash against you doesn’t even make any sense. AT ALL. A soldier literally *gave* you their extra ticket and *wanted* you to go with them and *consented* for you to go. What people don’t seem to understand is that the ticket probably would’ve gone UNUSED so what’s the difference if he went or not? Do you haters really have nothing better to do than to cause a commotion over something as petty as this? Come on now. I’m proud to say i’m a Zack Hample supporter and a ballhawk myself. I’ve been reading his blogs for the last 7 years, have read EVERY single post, and continue to read them and support him.

  32. jere80

    On March 9th, after hearing about this game, I sent the following e-mail to Zack containing the audio from a fictional movie trailer:

    *****************

    The Army has balls.

    [patriotic music]

    But this man…

    has a glove

    [action music action music action music]

    This summer

    Uncle Sam

    meets Brother Zack

    [music quits suddenly]

    FORT SNAGG

    7.3.16

    *************

    Okay, it wasn’t my best work, and it had better formatting in the original e-mail, but the point is, I was psyched immediately for Zack to go to this game. And even though he hit a point between then and now where he thought it wasn’t gonna happen, I have learned to never give up on Zack Hample. If it can be done, he will do it. So I’m glad he pulled it off and we’re all fortunate to have this blog post. Congrats, Zack, and thanks.

    As for the ultra-d****baggery of the loud minority and misguided, I’m not even gonna address it. Except to say that it was awfully thoughtful of them to immediately give up their jobs to jobless veterans and all the money in their bank accounts to strangers’ children. They really are heroes and patriots. Meanwhile, I apologize for taking up bandwidth here as it could have been used by a disabled baby. Who can type.

  33. jotaesethegeek

    Zack,

    I am sorry for the hate that you have received and are still receiving. Stay strong. You know who you are, as do those of us who (whether for a short time or your lifelong friends) have gotten to see you and interact with you. Stay true to yourself. Controversy will die down. Continue doing what you love and don’t let anyone stop you.

  34. Mike

    Hey Zack! Long time, no chat. I was so excited to hear that you did some ballhawking at Ft. Bragg. These jerks who are attacking you and want you banned are so numb to everything. They obviously know nothing about your experience, charity, or respect for the game. You’re doing an amazing job so keep it up buddy.

    Mike in Albuquerque

  35. Allen David

    All you haters are pathetic. 1) Zack acquired his ticket legally and 2) who cares if this event was for veterans and servicemen. We automatically place military folk on high pedestals, which several do not deserve. Why do they get the benefit of the doubt. Get over yourselves you rednecks. Zack, keep entertaining us with your ballhawking.

  36. Joe

    Zack, this is the perfect example of people/media trying to tear someone down and jumping to conclusions in their own heads without much of any facts about the situation.
    Banning you from all stadiums? Wow people are ridiculous. Kind of sad actually.

    Keep on doing what you do Zack, they’re plenty of people who love following it!

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