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Man Who Caught No. 61: Roger Maris Told Me To Keep Ball, Make Some Money

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Yankees captain Derek Jeter shakes hands with Christian Lopez after he caught hit No. 3,000. Lopez gave the ball to Jeter. (credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Yankees captain Derek Jeter shakes hands with Christian Lopez after he caught hit No. 3,000. Lopez gave the ball to Jeter. (credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

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NEW YORK (WFAN) – The parallels are uncanny between Christian Lopez, the 23-year-old who returned Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit ball, and Sal Durante, the lucky fan who came away with Roger Maris’ record 61st home run ball in 1961.

Lopez, mired in student loan debt totaling over $100,000, received his tickets to Saturday’s game as a birthday present from his girlfriend, Tara Johnson.

Durante told WFAN’s Steve Somers on Monday that he also “had no money,” so his girlfriend, Rosemarie, bought the tickets.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“It just hit the palm of my hand and it knocked me over into the row behind me. It didn’t hurt, it was fantastic,” Durante said. “I still can’t believe it.”

But that’s where the comparisons between Lopez and Durante end.

Lopez gave the ball to Jeter in exchange for some tickets and memorabilia — a swap that could cost the fan thousands in taxes. Durante said his first instinct was to give Maris the ball, but the slugger wanted no part of it.

“He says ‘No … you keep the baseball, make yourself some money,’” Durante recalled. “I was kind of taken aback, I mean, that was really, really thoughtful of him.”

Listen: Sal Durante talks Maris ball with Steve Somers

As for how his initials wound up on the Maris ball?

“Well, the Yankees felt that there might be a problem if I left the stadium with the baseball, figuring maybe I would get mugged,” explained Durante. “So I said, ‘You know what, how am I gonna know if it’s the same baseball when I pick it up? … How about if I put my initials on it?’ They agreed, and I left it there until we went to Sacramento, which was about three weeks or so (later).”

Durante told Somers there was absolutely no pressure from the team to give up the milestone memento.

“There was nothing said at all about them keeping the baseball,” said Durante. “They agreed that I could pick it up when I was ready.”

Durante isn’t sure that things would have turned out differently if he caught the ball in today’s era.

“Ah, that’s a very, very good question,” he said. “I wish I had an answer for that, I don’t know.”

As for the girlfriend who bought Durante’s tickets? This year, Rosemarie and Sal will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Should Jeter have made a similar offer to Lopez? Sound off in the comments below…

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