Fan returns Derek Jeter's home run ball

Updated: July 11, 2011, 9:12 AM ET
By Mike Mazzeo | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Christian Lopez came to Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon hoping to see history.

He just didn't realize he'd become a part of it.

Christian Lopez, Derek Jeter
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesLopez shared a postgame smile with Jeter.

Lopez, a 23-year-old cellphone salesman from Highland Mills, N.Y., who was seated in Section 236, Row 1, Seat 19, scooped up New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit -- a third-inning solo home run into the left-field bleachers -- after it rolled onto a grass ledge right in front of him.

"I was taking a picture, and next thing you know I look in the air," Lopez said. "My dad dove and missed it, because he has awful hands. I saw it roll in front of me, so I jumped on it. It was just instinct. I thought 'Wow! This is it! This is my chance!'"

Perhaps even more amazing was the fact that Lopez just wanted Jeter to have the ball and asked for nothing in return, though the Yankees insisted on showering him with memorabilia and tickets.

Lopez's father, Raul, 55, thought for a moment that he'd be the one to snag Jeter's homer.

"I couldn't believe it," said Raul Lopez, who was sitting in Section 236, Row 1, Seat 15. "I was like, 'Holy Cow! It's coming right to me! I got it! I got it!' It hit me flush right on my palm and went right toward [Christian]."

Harkening back to his college football days as a defensive tackle for St. Lawrence University, Christian Lopez jumped all over the "fumble" and, with the protection of Raul, somehow managed to hold on to the ball.

"I kind of covered him because I knew it was gonna be crazy," Raul Lopez said. "I've seen the Barry Bonds homer before. It's crazy."

Raul Lopez and his son quickly headed toward the concourse, where they were surrounded by team security. Soon enough, they were escorted to a private room.

"I've been on the bottom of a (fumble) pile a couple times, so this wasn't anything different," Christian Lopez said. "I was just happy no one swung. That could've turned out brutal, but security was right here dragging me upstairs. It was surreal."

Considering that Christian Lopez had just secured a priceless piece of Major League Baseball history, the Yankees had one question for him: What do you want?

Lopez barely thought about it before doing the unthinkable.

Instead of asking Jeter for millions of dollars or saying he was going to put the ball up for auction, Lopez decided he was just going to hand it over to one of his baseball heroes.

"Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not gonna take it away from him," Christian Lopez said. "Money's cool and all, but I'm 23 years old, I've got a lot of time to make that. It was never about the money, it was about the milestone."

Really?

"That's who he is," Raul Lopez said. "My son could get a million dollars and he'd shrug his shoulders. He'd see a dog get hit by a car and he'd shrug his shoulders. It's no big deal for him. He's very cool and calm about everything."

Christian Lopez said he received a text from his boss at the Verizon Wireless in Middletown, N.Y.

"She texted me asking me, 'You didn't keep the ball for me?! You're fired!'" Lopez joked. "I think she's gonna fire me (Sunday)."

But for Christian Lopez, the opportunity to meet Jeter and get three autographed balls, bats, and two Jeter-signed jerseys was enough.

"I was starstruck," Lopez said. "And I met Reggie Jackson and Jay-Z. People that I'd never think of shaking their hand and saying 'Nice to meet you.' It's just weird. It's crazy."

The Yankees are also giving Christian Lopez four Champions suite season tickets to every home game for the rest of the season and through the playoffs.

And to think, it wouldn't have been made possible if Lopez's girlfriend, 22-year-old Tara Johnson, hadn't shelled out $325 for five $65 tickets on StubHub for Lopez's birthday.

"I had an opportunity to meet him just a little while ago," said Jeter, who wound up going 5-for-5 and driving in the game-winning run during the Yankees' 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. "He got his ticket from his girlfriend so he owes her something big after this one. So he's going to be paying her back for quite some time."

Phil Cohen, 59, of Northford, Conn., and his daughter, Laura Cohen, 20, were at the game with the trio.

"I used to work with Raul about 25 years ago in the pest control business and periodically we'd maintain contact," Phil Cohen said. "He called me up a couple months ago about going to a game. A couple of weeks ago he said we're going to get tickets to the Saturday game, so that's how we got tickets."

Cohen said he and Raul Lopez were talking Saturday morning about how they'd have a good shot to see history after Friday night's game was rained out.

Little did they know Christian Lopez would be the proud owner of a ball that could've fetched thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars if sold on the open market.

"When we got here and we sat at these seats, we were saying wouldn't it be great if his 3,000th hit was a home run and it came to us?" Cohen said.

ESPNNewYork.com asked Raul Lopez if he was upset his son turned down the riches that could've come had he decided to sell it.

"No. He's his own man," Raul Lopez said. "I tried to influence him between the ages of 1 and 18."

Raul and Christian Lopez remained with security for approximately two innings.

They never made it back to their original seats.

"They let us watch from the the Steinbrenner box," Raul Lopez said. "We've been treated very nicely. It was surreal."

Christian Lopez just wanted to see Derek Jeter get two hits on Saturday afternoon and become the 28th player in major league history to reach the 3,000-hit club.

As it turns out, he got a whole lot more than he bargained for.

Because from now on, Christian Lopez's name is going to live on in Yankees fan lore forever.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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