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Jeter Fan Leaves $180,000 on Table to Return Milestone Ball

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Jeter Fan Passes Up $180,000 to Return Milestone Home Run
Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees celebrates at home with teammate Alex Rodriguez #13 after hitting a solo home run in the third inning for career hit 3000 while playing against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Photographer: Michael Heiman/Getty Images

July 11 (Bloomberg) -- Derek Jeter has his 3,000-hit ball. Christian Lopez, who came up with it in the left-field stands, traded it for New York Yankees memorabilia and tickets worth $180,000 less because he sees it as the right thing to do.

Lopez, a mobile-phone salesman from Highland Mills, New York, who graduated from college last year, returned the home-run ball rather than sell it for as much as $250,000. The Yankees’ gifts to him are worth around $70,000.

“Mr. Jeter deserved it,” Lopez said during a press conference at Yankee Stadium after Jeter reached the milestone on July 9. “Yeah, money is cool and all, but I’m only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that. His accomplishment is a milestone.”

Lopez came away with three bats, three balls and two jerseys signed by Jeter, the Yankees’ captain and 28th Major League Baseball player to have 3,000 career hits. Jeter is the only player to accomplish the feat as a Yankee, and the second, after Wade Boggs, to do it with a home run.

The bats Lopez got in return are worth between $1,000 and $1,200, the balls sell for $500 and the jerseys are worth $1,500, said Brandon Steiner, chief executive officer of Steiner Sports Marketing Inc. in New Rochelle, New York.

The Yankees also gave Lopez four Champions Suite tickets for their remaining 31 regular-season home games and any playoff games. The seats are worth between $37,000 and $62,000 for the rest of the regular season, according to the Yankees’ website. The Yankees don’t plan to offer Lopez any tickets beyond this season, team spokesman Michael Margolis said.

“If he wanted to capitalize he probably could have made more,” said Steiner, whose company has an exclusive partnership to sell a line of products connected to Jeter’s 3,000th hit. “But he did a very generous thing.”

$65 Seats

While tickets to the July 9 game against Tampa Bay were selling for about $200 on the secondary market, Lopez said his girlfriend paid about $65 apiece to buy seats 10 days earlier as his birthday present.

A 2010 graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, Lopez said he jumped on the home run ball after it bounced off his father’s hands. Although some fans tried to wrest the ball from him, Lopez said he had some experience recovering fumbles while playing football in college.

“I’ve been on the bottom of the pile a few times, so it wasn’t really anything different,” said Lopez, who said he used to play defensive tackle. “I’m just happy no one swung. But security was right there. In a second they were dragging me up the stairs.”

Maybe Worth More

Doug Allen, president of Chicago-based Legendary Auctions, said last month that the ball may be worth as much as $250,000. Since Jeter went 5 for 5 on the day and it was a home run, it might have even brought more.

“He left money on the table,” Allen said in a telephone interview today. “But at the end of the day he’s probably happy with what he got, and what a cool thing for a Yankee fan to be able to say that he caught that ball.”

Jeter now has 3,004 hits as MLB enters the All-Star break. The Yankees next play the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 14.

Lopez said he planned to return the ball to Jeter, who’s spent his 17-year career with the Yankees, and didn’t initially think about what he might get in return.

“It didn’t even cross my mind until they asked me what I wanted,” said Lopez, who works at the Verizon Wireless store in Middletown, New York. “The only thing I could think of was a signed ball would be nice and to meet him. It wasn’t about the money, it’s about a milestone.”

‘Star-Struck’

Lopez said he was “star-struck” to meet Jeter and was thrilled about the memorabilia and experiences such as walking through parts of the stadium most fans don’t get to see and doing a live interview with the Yankees Entertainment & Sports network. Lopez, who still has outstanding college loans, said being a part of the historic moment was more important to him than trying to sell the ball at auction.

“He probably could have gotten more money, but maybe something good will come of it now that he has this relationship with the Yankees and Derek,” Steiner said in a telephone interview. “Meeting Derek and getting all those things signed is still a pretty cool thing for a lot of people and valuable in its own right.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York, at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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