Yankee Fan’s Generosity is Returned, with $50,000 to Ease His Debt

A week ago, Christian Lopez was living an unremarkable life. He had a job, a girlfriend, a significant student loan debt. Then fate (he retrieved Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit) and choice (he simply returned the ball to the Yankees shortstop) changed all that.

Mr. Lopez, 23, was lauded for his honor and ridiculed for his refusal to consider selling the ball. He met Jeter on Saturday, was the Yankees’ guest on Sunday and was back at work in a Verizon store in Middletown, N.Y., on Monday.

On Wednesday afternoon, the story took a new turn at a crowded Times Square sports store, where two of Mr. Lopez’s admirers pledged him at least $50,000 in financial support — donations that came amid revelations of Mr. Lopez’s financial challenges.

Mr. Lopez said he owed more than $100,000 in student loan debt; he could also face a significant tax burden after receiving season tickets and autographed memorabilia from the Yankees in exchange for the ball, which may have been worth $100,000 or more.

Surrounded by Yankees T-shirts, hats and other merchandise, Mitchell Modell, chief executive of Modell’s Sporting Goods, and Brandon Steiner, chief of the memorabilia company Steiner Sports, pledged Mr. Lopez $25,000 each at a Modell’s shop off Times Square. Mr. Modell will also donate 5 percent of the earnings from Yankees merchandise sold at his shops over the next week to Mr. Lopez.

At the news conference, Mr. Lopez appeared stunned. “I don’t know if there’s a cloud name for where I am right now,” he said.

Moments before, Mr. Modell had given Mr. Lopez two other gifts: a lifetime discount card to his stores and his personal 2009 Yankees World Series ring, which Mr. Modell said he had because his company was a major sponsor. Mr. Steiner estimated the ring to be worth more than $40,000.

Mr. Modell said he had been on vacation in Turkey during Saturday’s game. Upon returning to New York, he read news accounts of Mr. Lopez and of his financial woes and wanted to help.

“When you hear about what Christian did, it wasn’t about Christian,” he said. “It was about his love for the Yankees, his love for Derek Jeter, his love for the history of the Yankees franchise.”

Since Saturday, Mr. Lopez’s story has played out across the local and national news media and transformed him into a kind of baseball-fan superstar. He is asked for autographs; he has received hundreds of Facebook friend requests.

At the news conference, Mr. Lopez said his finances were the last thing on his mind. “Right now I’m living in the moment,” he said. “I’m not going to let taxes ruin my experience.”


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