NEW YORK – In that moment after he grabbed Derek Jeter's(notes) 3,000th hit ball in his hand, tucking it inside his defensive lineman's body and diving down to avoid the reaching hands of fans around him, security guards were leading Christian Lopez and his father Raul up the stairs toward the stadium security office.
"What do you want for the ball?" the stadium security man asked.
"I just want to give it to Jeter," Lopez said.
People at times like this don't say such things. People see a payday. They see riches in the hundreds of thousands of dollars memorabilia collectors offer to pay for balls like the one Lopez held. Lopez is 23. He is a 2010 graduate of St. Lawrence University but only has a job selling cell phones for Verizon. He has plans to go to graduate school. He has a pile of student loans left over from his undergraduate days and he still lives with his parents at their home near West Point to save money.
Still, as he clutched his golden ticket he repeated his words to the security man.
"I just want to give it to Jeter."
Raul Lopez didn't know what to think. A gregarious man who is almost as big as his enormous son, Raul laughed and said that if Christian was still in college he would have snatched the ball from his child and demanded money for his education. But somehow he knew Christian wasn't about to ask for anything.
"That's just who he is," Raul said.
His boy has been a Yankee fan all his life. He loves Babe Ruth, which perplexes Raul, who wonders what kind of 23 year old loves Babe Ruth. His New York license plates have a Yankee insignia and read "3CLO." Jeter was always one of Christian's favorite players and when his girlfriend Tara Johnson presented him with tickets, picked up off Stub Hub for $65 each as a birthday present, he was delighted. In a way, just getting to see the 3,000th hit was enough.
As he repeated his desire to simply present the ball to Jeter, the stadium security man appeared perplexed and at one point left the room to call Yankee president Randy Levine.
"Look, here is an expensive ball," Raul said to Christian. "This ball is worth some money, what do you want to do?"
"Give the ball to Jeter," Christian said.
The father shrugged. Eventually the security man returned and even though Christian Lopez had asked for nothing he began to offer things: four seats in a suite for the rest of the season, front row seats in the Legends Suite for Sunday's game, some autographed jerseys and autographed balls. Lopez nodded. It all sounded great but he really just wanted to give the ball to Jeter.
"He deserves this, he worked hard for it," Christian said.
Who knows how much the ball would have been worth. Early estimates had it going for anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000. No one will ever find out for sure. Lopez was led down the corridor beneath Yankee Stadium where he and Raul and Johnson stood in a group across from Jay-Z and his group. Eventually someone led him into a room where he was introduced to Jeter and presented him the ball. This seemed a good trade to him.
Outside Johnson considered their new bounty and wondered how they would possibly be able to go to all these Yankees games.
"We're so busy," she said.
But like Raul, she wouldn't second-guess her boyfriend's decision to forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars even as she did give a small grimace.
"Well he does have student loans," she said.
Then she smiled.
"He did the right thing," she said. "He's a nice guy anyway."