'The right thing to do'

Orange County man becomes baseball folk hero

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  • Photo by Stan Martin Warwick Rotarian Leo Kaytes inspects the World Series ring Christian Lopez received after returning the home run ball New York Yankee All Star Shortstop Derek Jeter blasted into the stands for his historic 3,000th major league hit last year.

WARWICK — Catching a home run at Yankee Stadium is a lifetime thrill.

Retrieving Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career major hit - a home run into the left field stands - is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Returning the historic million-dollar baseball to the Yankee captain, star shortstop and future Hall-of-Famer with no expectation of reward is an unselfish act.

That event on July 9, 2011, propelled 23-year-old Christian Lopez of Highland Mills into a baseball folk hero. He was a guest on numerous New York and national television news and talk shows.

Asked constantly why he gave the baseball back instead of demanding a million dollars, Lopez quickly responds: “It was the right thing to do.”

At the time, family members and friends weren’t sure about his decision, especially when there was a reported $2.5 million dollar offer for the highly coveted sports trophy.

Lopez spoke recently to the Warwick Valley Rotary Club as the guest of local auto dealer and Rotarian Leo Kaytes.

Lopez said he’s still the hometown boy born and raised in Orange County. He loves baseball and the New York Yankees.

Although he didn’t ask for them, the Yankees gave him tickets to 40 games and visits to the team locker room. Christian now has to pay for his own tickets but the players still invite him into the locker room where he’s treated like a member of their team. He also proudly wears a 2009 Yankee World Series championship ring.

Lopez’s upbeat attitude and sincerity in dealing with the media and public after the Derek Jeter baseball incident caught the attention of Mitchell Modell, CEO and president of Modell Sports. Lopez now works for Modell Sports in their community outreach program.

During the Rotary meeting, someone mentioned “Beautiful People,” an Orange County sports program based in Warwick for handicapped children which Warwick Rotarians and the Yankees support.

He said his was a rewarding job. He was allowed to help others while promoting Modell. Lopez promised to seek support for “Beautiful People” with a donation of Modell sports equipment.

Lopez reemphasized that he made the right decision in returning the historic Jeter baseball. “I’m now leading a dream life for a 24 year old. I’ve really been blessed.”

- Stan Martin

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