Lucky fan grabs Jeter’s 3,000 ball, gives it back
Christian Lopez was at the bottom of several piles during his
days playing football at small St. Lawrence University.
So, finding himself buried under a hoard of Yankee Stadium fans
Saturday wasn’t exactly a new experience.
What was different, however, was that instead of cradling a
fumbled pigskin in his arms, the 6-foot-5 former lineman happened
to be clutching Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit after the New York
star homered in the third inning off Tampa Bay’s David Price.
The specially marked ball landed in the first row of Section 236
in the left-field bleachers, avidly pursued by a dozen other fans.
Lucky to land the prize, Lopez was happy to give it back to Jeter
for season tickets and several other goodies.
”I was taking a picture, hoping he would hit it, and the next
thing I know, it’s in the air and I see my dad diving across a
crowd of people,” Lopez said after a whirlwind series of in-game
interviews with the media and a postgame meeting with Jeter and
several other Yankees. ”My dad missed it, because he has awful
hands. The next thing I know, I just saw the ball roll in front of
me and I jumped on it. It was instinct.”
The 23-year-old Lopez, from Highland Mills, N.Y., a town just
outside West Point, got his $65 tickets a few days ago through
StubHub as a birthday present from his girlfriend, Tara Johnson,
22, also from Highland Mills.
Johnson, his father, Raul, and two family friends all were in
the first row of raised bleachers, hoping to see history. According
to Johnson, Lopez actually thought he might be part of it.
”My boyfriend said, ‘If the ball comes over here, I’m going to
get it,”’ Johnson said. ”So when it was hit, I said, ‘Christian,
I think it’s really coming here.”’
When the ball reached the stands, Lopez bent down to retrieve it
and engulfed as though he was recovering a fumble. His father,
wearing a No. 5 Joe DiMaggio jersey, draped himself across his
son’s back while others in the section tried to pry away the prized
”I was worried about getting out of there alive,” Christian
Lopez said during an in-game interview that the Yankees showed on
the big video board in center field.
The crowd cheered when Lopez said he would give the ball back to
”When I saw the ball went to him, I covered him,” Raul Lopez
said. ”I knew it would be crazy, because I saw the Barry Bonds
thing. You know it’s going to be crazy because it’s history.”
Once he emerged, Christian Lopez told a different tale.
”I think he’s telling the story that he was trying to protect
me,” Christian Lopez said. ”But I think he was the one who
punched me in the ribs. I was glad I got to share with him. This is
a good time.”
Moments after Lopez grabbed the ball, Yankees officials hustled
him to the Steinbrenner family luxury box.
”Security was right there in a second,” Lopez said. ”They
were dragging me up the stairs, and I’m a large man to drag up
stairs. They were saying, ‘Come with us.’ The whole reason for me
to come to the game was for history. And to actually be part of it
now, it’s crazy. It was surreal.”
It became even more exciting when he met Jeter and presented him
with the ball. Lopez also met several other Yankees stars,
including Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
”I had an opportunity to meet him a little while ago,” Jeter
said after getting the ball from Lopez. ”He got his tickets from
his girlfriend, so he owes her quite a bit. He’s going to be paying
her back for quite some time.”
Lopez can pay her back, in part, with some of the bounty he
received from the Yankees. He was rewarded with four front-row
Legends seats for the remainder of the 2011 season, including the
postseason, along with three bats and three balls signed by Jeter,
plus two jerseys autographed by Jeter.
Lopez was asked if he ever thought of demanding $1 million or
more for the ball, as some fans have after catching milestone home
”It didn’t cross my mind until they asked me what I wanted,”
he said. ”The only thing I could think of was a few signed balls
would be nice, and to meet him. It wasn’t about the money. It was
about a milestone and I wasn’t going to take that away from him.
Money’s cool and all, but I’m only 23 years old. I have a lot of
time to make that.”
”Mr. Jeter deserved it,” Lopez said. ”It’s all his.”
Lopez, who sells cell phones for a living, already was receiving
calls from friends and co-workers.
”My boss actually talked to me today,” he said. ”She said,
‘You’re going to keep the ball from me? You’re fired.”’
While 48,102 other fans were fortunate enough to see Jeter’s
5-for-5 performance and milestone hit in a 5-4 Yankees win,
thousands more who held tickets to Friday night’s rainout waited
dejectedly in long lines at ticket windows before the game, hoping
to exchange their rain checks for seats on Saturday.
No such luck.
Electronic signs ringing the stadium indicated the game was sold
out, and that those in line most likely were waiting in vain. But
the majority of fans, many of whom were from out of town and who
had been on line for as long as 2 hours, still hoped for a
”My 10-year-old is a really big Yankees fan who’s never been to
a major league baseball game. This will be a first if we make it,”
said David Demmon of Albuquerque, N.M. ”We bought these tickets a
month in advance. We thought this was great and we were really
looking forward to it, but it doesn’t look as if we’re going to get
John Verbeek made train trips down from Connecticut on two
straight days, hoping to see Jeter hit the mark. Instead, he was
headed back to the station without seeing a single pitch or
”I got the tickets on StubHub for a premium,” Verbeek said,
referring to Friday’s game. ”My daughter is a real Jeter fan and
she raced all the way in from Boston to get here on time last
night. I’m really disappointed, because I’ve seen them play in a
lot worse weather than last night. We were here for a Boston game
one night (June 9) when they waited 3 1/2 hours and then played the
game. And it wasn’t that bad weather. They’ve played in a lot
worse. And now we can’t get in today. We’re very, very
Mark Brill, who drove in from Woodstock, bought his tickets for
Friday’s game on TicketsNow.com.
”Sometimes you get bit,” he said. ”I know they’re sold out
for today’s game, but I heard they might have standing room, or
maybe we’ll get tickets for tomorrow’s game.”
For the chance to see Jeter’s 3,000th hit, that’s too late.