If you aren’t familiar with Hample, the gist is that he attends baseball games with the sole intention of catching, collecting, and retrieving baseballs. Whether it’s game home runs, foul balls, milestones, or simple toss-ups, he’s the best when it comes to acquiring the baseball.
Despite having nabbed over 11,000 baseballs during Major League games in his lifetime, or that he has nearly 600,000 followers on YouTube, or how he has nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter, Zack Hample’s pursuit isn’t really a baseball, and the “world” being against him seems wrong.
I went into Hample’s film with a feeling of indifference towards him. Nothing he does at a game is bothersome to any. He’s gone to great lengths in hopes of getting into more limited events such as the Fort Bragg or Field of Dreams games, but his actions within the stadium aren’t negatively notable. Throughout the film, which was wonderfully put together over the course of eight years by director Jeff Siegel, I found myself thinking the “world” simply needs more Hample’s.
At his core, described by both Hample and former San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell, Hample’s desire and focus was to play Major League Baseball. Hample calls himself a failure in that regard, but it’s a burning passion that characterizes so many aspects of his life. An obsessive personality, something so many deal with in the world today, Hample has channeled his pursuits and intertwined them with passion.
Reporter Maria Marino offers several notable quotes throughout the film as she’s gotten to know Hample over a period of time. One of the most profound was how succinctly she put it, “Hample created a career out of something that didn’t exist.” While points are made about him potentially having too much time on his hands or not being tied to a real job, he’s instead blazed the path of never calling a job “work.”
While Hample’s pursuit of baseballs started many years ago, and he somewhat attributes the passion to his dad, the understanding may be more linked to an excellent level of self-awareness. Ostracized and overlooked for being different, Hample not only dealt with the tumultuous times during his youth but seemingly embraced the opportunity to own himself. Rather than allowing the feelings of others to define them, he understood a need for the world to be better and his place in that coming from within.
Although a substantial amount of ridicule was tossed his way, suggesting he gets physical with other fans or robs kids of their opportunities, nothing about his videos or any corroborated story suggests anything but the opposite. It’s unfortunate to see a man making a career exploiting memorabilia in Darren Rovell downplay Hample’s pursuits, but that may be trumped by Laurence Levy (known as Marlins Man) hurling awful insults despite being solely known for spending money to purchase fame at baseball games. These are just the tip of the iceberg for Hample, though, and it’s clear he turned from the impact long ago.
There’s no denying Hample hears it, and as a human being, he certainly is moved by what is said about him. As has always been the case, though, it’s abundantly clear that Hample chooses instead to surround himself with the positivity of those in his inner circle and, in turn, use his platform as a place of positivity.
Now over 40 years old, Hample continues a passion that may be single-handedly more beneficial to the growth of baseball than anything the league is currently doing on its own. Again, ball-hawking is simply the vehicle, but Hample is (maybe even unknowingly) changing lives and pushing the sport to a new generation. Many of his fans are children, and they are those consuming his videos on YouTube in droves. When asked for pictures or autographs at games, it’s often from youth. Handing out baseballs to kids and those around him, he’s often connecting the sport with people in a way they may have never previously experienced.
I reached out to both Siegel and Hample with one simple question. I wanted to know, “If there’s something you want a viewer to take away from this film, what is it?” In a fashion that flows with his actions in the film, Zack said, “Embrace your inner obsessive weirdo and don’t be so quick to judge people for the zany **** they get into. It doesn’t matter if it’s a part-time hobby or a full-time career — the oddities should be celebrated! And also, while it’s awesome to be recognized as the best in the world at something, it’s also great to be known as a quality human being that creates some joy and happiness for others.”
Having spent nearly a decade making this film, Siegel has come to know Zack well, both at the stadium and outside of it. He shared insight by saying, “I hope you don’t have to be a baseball fan (or even a sports fan) to take something away from Zack’s story. And while Zack’s fanbase will certainly be interested in watching the film, I’m most eager for it to be passed around to those who have never even heard of him before.
Over the years I’ve been making this film, I’ve gotten to know the real Zack – the person beyond his superficial public persona. Beneath the surface of obsessive fandom, Zack’s personality transcends the sports world: the “weirdo” who dealt with insufferable bullying as a child, the son of two eccentric, notable parents who embraced individuality and an alternative way to live, the failed professional baseball player who has done everything in his power to keep his baseball dream alive, and the guy who lives life with a level of passion that most of us can only hope for.
Even though Zack’s dream of being a professional baseball player didn’t work out – just like it didn’t for 99.9% of people – he figured out a way to make a beautiful new sculpture out of his shattered dream (sports psychologist Dr. Jonathan Fader talks about this in the film). And that’s something every single person on the planet could benefit from trying to do.”
At the end of the day, Zack Hample is someone who’s always embraced differences, had a never-ceasing pursuit of passion, and has long been versus a world that thinks this is about baseballs. Some string and cowhide is definitely what connects Hample to a sport he’s infinitely passionate about, but the tone of who he is comes across so differently in the film, and we’d probably all be better off applying some of the same principles in the way we interact with one another.
You can check out Zack Hample vs. the World on multiple streaming services found here.