Christian Lopez, Who Caught Jeter’s 3,000th Hit Ball, Has No Regrets About Giving It Back

No regrets.

The Derek Jeter fan who gave back the historic 3,000th-hit ball that his idol blasted into the left-field stands -- a memento worth about $250,000 -- yesterday said he'd do it again "100 times."

Sitting yesterday in a Yankee Stadium seat along the third-base line five rows above the visitors dugout, Christian Lopez basked in his newfound fame -- and the extra thumbs-up he got yesterday from an at-bat Jeter, who notched his astounding 3,000th hit with the ball Saturday.

"Every person in the stadium wanted to touch that ball," Lopez said.

But "I would have done it over again 100 times," he said of his giveback. "I think I did the right thing."

MR. 3,000



Lopez, 23, who works for Verizon, said he owes about $100,000 in student loans but would rather pay it off the old-fashioned way than rob Jeter of his memento.

"Three thousand hits isn't something that happens every day," Lopez said.

"The Yankees didn't pressure me to give the ball back to Jeter," he insisted. "I just really wanted to give it back for everything the guy has done for us."

The young man's dad, Raul "Chico" Lopez, told The Post that at first, the ball "landed right in my hand, and then it bounced out."

"I can't believe I dropped the ball," he said.

When his son told him he planned to return the ball to Jeter, the dad asked him, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?"

"I think I would have handled it differently if I had held on to the ball," the dad admitted. "But I couldn't be more proud of [Christian]."

Brandon Steiner, the CEO of Steiner Sports, which works with the Yankees selling memorabilia, said Lopez was given tickets to the rest of the team's 32 home games, worth at least $44,800.

The freebies include four tix for the uber-pricey Legend section for one game, worth a total of $6,000, then four tickets for each of the rest of the games in the stadium's Championship section, where seats go for $350.

Lopez was sitting in a $65 seat when he caught Jeter's massive home-run hit.

The captain himself gave Lopez three signed bats, three signed balls and three signed jerseys.

Steiner said he initially pegged the 3,000-hit ball itself at $100,000.

"But there's something about this day, that's taking a life on itself," he said. "I now say it's worth $200,000 to $250,000."

A Steiner rep added, "Steiner Sports crashed twice due to the volume of calls, estimated to be in the 5,000 range, requesting memorabilia relating to the historic hit."

As Lopez left Yankee Stadium yesterday, he was swamped by fans who wanted to shake his hand and share the glow -- and congratulate him for doing the right thing.

"The experience is just priceless," he marveled. "It's [Jeter's] day, but I'm right there with him. It can't get any better than that."

In Lopez's tiny upstate town of Highland Mills, neighbors said the young man's big heart is already well-known.

"He's a good guy, and it doesn't surprise me in the least," neighbor Frank Kay said of Lopez's ball return.

"He was floating on air [Saturday] when he got home, as anyone would be. [The catch] was a one-in-a-billion chance, and he lucked out . . . He really deserves [the attention]."

Resident Ellie Pastel called Lopez "a gentle giant."

"Growing up, he has always been a protector of the other kids in the neighborhood," she said. "He's such a sweet person it doesn't surprise me how he handled it the way he did."

The dad of Christian's best friend, Dan Firestone, agreed.

"He's the easiest-going guy," Andy Firestone said. "When he played football, he was intense. He was an animal on the field but a pussycat off."

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