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Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on July 18, 2011
Saturday, July 9th started off as a regular day for 23-year-old Christian Lopez. A passionate Yankee fan, Lopez made his way to Yankee Stadium from Highland Mills in upstate New York with the goal of witnessing history: Derek Jeter was just two hits away from becoming the 28th member of the 3,000 hit club.
Lopez, a Verizon cellphone salesman, settled into his seat in the front row of the bleachers (which is a good distance beyond the left field wall) and applauded as Jeter stroked a first-inning single off Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price.
It almost seemed like Lopez had a baseball-attracting magnet on him since he was able to corral the ball with little trouble. The task of getting a ball at a baseball game quickly became a nationwide media spectacle.
Rather than see how much money he could get for the ball, Lopez did the noble thing and gave it back to Jeter. He was just as excited to meet Jeter as someone else would have been to receive a hefty payday for the ball.
The Yankees rewarded Lopez's generosity by giving him season tickets in a luxury box for the remainder of the season (including the postseason) as well as Jeter autographed bats, baseballs and jerseys.
Steiner Sports hypothesized that the ball was worth anywhere from $200,000-$250,000. However, on the open market, the ball could have netted even more money, since Jeter was the first Yankee (not Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle) to amass 3,000 hits.
To put it in perspective, here are the prices that some other historic baseballs sold for: Barry Bonds' 73rd home run in 2001: $450,000; Bonds' 756th career home run: $752,000; Hank Aaron's 755th career home run: $650,000; Mark McGwire's 70th home run in 1998: $3 million; Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas' 500th career home runs: $0 (given back to them by a fan).
The whole situation caught Lopez by surprise, but still he needed very little time to arrive at his decision. Though he has over $100,000 left in student loans from attending St. Lawrence University, he did not feel that Jeter or the Yankees should be responsible for paying for his education.
Lopez also claims that the Yankees never put any pressure on him to give the ball back. It was his decision, he's proud of it, and his name will always be linked to Jeter's 3,000th hit.
In an interesting turn of events, the IRS stepped in and said that Lopez owes taxes since the transaction involving the baseball was an exchange of goods. Technically, the Yankees giving Lopez the tickets and memorabilia were not actually a gift since Lopez gave them something in return (the ball).
The total price of everything Lopez received is nearly $45,000. If this IRS tax claim comes to fruition, Lopez would owe anywhere from $5,000-$14,000 in taxes.
Just think: You go to a ballpark and catch a historic baseball and do the right thing by giving it back to one of your favorite players. You deny any cash value for the ball and are feeling really good about what you did. Then, the government steps in and says you owe them money for the exchange. Tough world we live in.
Luckily for Lopez, several prominent businesses have stepped up to the plate for him. Miller High Life issued a statement that it will cover Lopez's tax bill in full since the company was thoroughly impressed by his actions.
Not only did Modell's Sporting Goods (a Yankees sponsor) give Lopez a 2009 World Series ring, but the company also will be giving him five percent of Yankees merchandise sales for one week to help him with any unforeseen costs.
Topps Baseball Cards even has an agreement with Lopez that will give him his own card and allow him to choose the image for this year's Jeter card.
While greedier fans may have ultimately succumbed to the power of the dollar, Lopez will always be remembered as a class act that placed his love of the game above any financial incentive.
Regardless of what anybody else thinks, he's comfortable with his decision and says he would do the same thing 100 times again if given the chance.