In support of the selfless Christian Lopez

Christian Lopez walked into Yankee Stadium on July 9 as an average, die-hard Yankees fan. A few hours later, he walked out as a celebrity, having caught the home run ball that Derek Jeter launched for his 3,000th hit.

Since Lopez's catch last Saturday, sports blogs, radio talk shows and TV stations have been flooded with people questioning his decision to return the ball to Jeter, which boggles my mind.

Immediately after making the luckiest catch of his life, Lopez was whisked away by ballpark security, and questioned as to what he'd want in return for coughing up the ball, he said in an interview with WFAN radio.

"I was like, 'Oh, wow, I didn't really think about this,' " Lopez said, recalling the decision. "I guess I really just want to give the ball to Jeter. I mean, the guy deserves this."

Lopez was forced to make a decision quickly, and he followed his instinct and gave the ball back -- instead of giving in to greed.

Barry Bonds' 715th home run ball sold for $220,100, and Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball went for around $3 million. There's little doubt that Lopez, a 23-year-old cell phone salesman with $100,000 in student loan debt, could've used the six figures that Jeter's ball likely would've produced on the open market.

As sports fans, we are constantly cringing about the bad decisions that athletes make. We say that athletes should be better role models for our youth, whose culture is permeated by violence, drugs, and greed. Finally, we have a moment of purity in sports, where someone makes a totally selfless decision, and we question him? Lopez's selflessness should be lauded, not mocked.

If we continue to criticize him for not cashing out on Jeter's ball, we're essentially telling our youth: yes, do the right thing ... unless there's a lot of money involved.

And when it comes to doing the right thing, the Yankees now have a chance to step up to the plate. As it turns out, no good catch goes untaxed. According to the New York Times, Lopez could owe an estimated $14,000 in taxes for the signed jerseys, bats, balls and luxury box tickets he received in return for handing over Jeter's ball, assuming the IRS considers these items as income rather than gifts.

For the Yankees, life is a blank check. They make money faster than the mint. If Lopez does owe the money in taxes, the organization needs to pick up the tab. That money is nothing to the Yankees. The same cannot be said for Lopez.

Companies, including Miller High Life, have already offered to pick up Lopez's tax bill. It's time the Yankees do the same and give Lopez a gift in return for the one he gave them.

Either way, Lopez told the Daily News that he'd pay the taxes if they were assessed.

Derek Jeter reaching 3,000 hits is a tremendous accomplishment. It's a milestone that left many spectators awestruck last Saturday. But I'm not sure it was Jeter who was the real hero in Yankee Stadium that day.

When I think about Jeter's milestone down the road, I'll be telling my kids about a guy named Christian Lopez, who gave up a lot of money so that Jeter could have the ball that was rightfully his.

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