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23-year-old New Yorker grabs No. 3,000

Frame grab of Christian Lopez at Yankee Stadium.

Frame grab of Christian Lopez at Yankee Stadium. Lopez caught New York Yankees' Derek Jeter's 3,000th career hit during a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter became the 28th major leaguer and first Yankees player to reach the milestone. Yankees won 5-4. (July 9, 2011) Credit: Yes Network

Christian Lopez could have cashed in after capturing the ball Derek Jeter hit into Section 236 in leftfield at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit, but he didn't want to spoil Jeter's moment. Instead, he did the noble thing -- by giving the ball to Jeter.

Told that many fans think he's crazy for not asking for money, Lopez said, "Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not going to take it away from him. Yeah, money is cool and all, but I'm only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that. It's a milestone. Only 27 other people have done this. It's not an everyday thing, and he deserves every second of it. He's worked so hard for 15 years or so."

Because the hit came in the third inning, there was plenty of time to consider the prospect of a six-figure payday. But Lopez said, "It didn't even cross my mind until they asked me what I wanted. The only thing I could think of was that a signed ball would be nice and to meet him. It wasn't about the money; it was about the milestone . . .

"I met him, and we took a couple of pictures. He's a very nice guy. I was starstruck.''

"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, who is from Highland Mills, N.Y., was in a position to participate in baseball history thanks to a June 15 birthday gift from girlfriend Tara Johnson, 22, of Carthage. They brought Lopez's father, Raul, with them.

Christian Lopez, who is a cellphone salesman, was recording the moment with his cellphone when the ball left Jeter's bat.

"I was like, 'Yes, he finally got it!' '' Johnson said. "Then I said, 'It looks like it's coming for us!' ''

The 6-5, 330-pound Lopez said, "I saw my dad diving across a crowd of people, and he missed it because he has awful hands. Next thing I know, I saw the ball roll in front of me, and I jumped on it. It was instinct. I was like, 'Wow, this is it. My chance.' ''

Fans piled on top of Lopez, but his football experience helped him. "I've . . . been on the bottom of the pile a couple of times, so it wasn't anything really different,'' he said. "Security was there in a second. They were dragging me up the stairs. It was surreal.''

As a gesture of their gratitude, the Yankees gave Lopez four front-row seats for Sunday's game. And for the rest of this season, he will receive four Champions Suite tickets. He also was given three Jeter-signed bats, three Jeter-signed balls and two Jeter-signed jerseys."I'm a little bit in shock," said Johnson, who was wearing a dark blue Yankees' t-shirt with Jeter's name and number on the back. "I'm a big Yankees fan, and always liked Derek Jeter because my grandmother did. It's thrilling."


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