NEW YORK (WFAN) — If not for a rainout last Friday night, New York might never have heard of Christian Lopez.
Lopez is the lucky Yankees fan who came away with Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit ball and gave it back, despite the item’s estimated $250,000 value. Lopez just wanted to witness history, something he thought impossible when Jeter had only two hits left going into the weekend.
Then the skies opened up over the Big Apple.
“As soon as I found out it was rained out I kind of looked over at (my girlfriend), I was like, ‘Hey, we might be here for history right now,'” Lopez told WFAN’s Boomer & Carton on Friday. “We finally get to the game, we get to our seats … I’m looking into the field like, ‘Wow we’re in home run territory, this is awesome!'”
Lopez said as Jeter’s home run blast came plummeting toward them, it was his father who had first crack at catching No. 3,000. It took a fortunate bounce from his old man’s hand — and the rest is history.
“When I jumped on it, my first thought was to throw the ball in the air and show everybody I had it. As soon as I did that I was like, ‘This is an awful idea,'” he said. “(My next) instinct, since I played football, was just to kind of curl up with it and hope for the best.”
According to Lopez, Yankees security was on him so fast that he actually came out of one his shoes when they grabbed him. Once he got his sneaker back on, he was escorted through the crowd. Lopez said he heard fans yell, “Yeah, congratulations, you’re a lucky S.O.B! You’re awesome, you’re a millionaire!” as he was walking through the stadium.
It was a surreal moment for the 23-year-old Verizon employee and his father as they were awaiting word from the Yankees.
“We’re sitting there and he’s like, ‘Can I see the ball?'” said Lopez. “He looks at the ball, he goes, ‘I can’t believe I missed it!'”
About 15 minutes later, Lopez had just one thing in mind when asked what he wanted in return for the milestone ball.
“My dad just turns around and looks at me, he goes, ‘You’re a grown man, you’re 23-years-old, make your own decisions now,'” he said. “I was like, ‘I’d like to give the ball back to Jeter.’ All I really wanted was a baseball signed by Derek.”
But it’s not all roses for Lopez. He may owe thousands in taxes for the pricey freebies he received in exchange.
“To be honest with you, I still haven’t heard from the IRS. I have no idea what’s going on with them,” said Lopez.
Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports and Mitch Modell of Modell’s Sporting Goods are pledging to help Lopez, who owes over $100,000 in student loan debt. Modell even gave the fan his 2009 Yankees World Series ring, a memento he was proudly wearing in the WFAN studios.
Lopez will also have his own Topps baseball card produced this year.
“I never thought what I would do would come back kind of tenfold for me,” he said.
So the question is: why would Lopez give up the baseball when he could have sold it for a ton of cash?
“I hang out with the right crowd,” Lopez said. “We all know what we’re about. We all know Yankee history, what they’re about. … I mean, he hit it. I didn’t hit the ball. He’s hit it 3,000 times.”
As for the Yankees tickets he received in exchange? Lopez plans to put those to good use.
“I’m gonna try to go to every game possible,” he said. “If not, my dad has the tickets, he has full license to them. There’s going be a Lopez somewhere in the stands.”
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