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Monday, July 11, 2011

History With An Exclamation Point!

Imagine staring “Lady Luck” in the eye and looking away?  Finding that “Golden Ticket” and eating the chocolate and throwing away the wrapper (a Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory reference!)  Ever pick all the numbers of the winning lottery combination, but forget to go to the convenience store to play your numbers?  Imagine having a life changing opportunity in your hands, but your conscience tells you to give up?

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 10, all of baseball’s eyes were on Yankee Stadium, as the New York Yankees took on the Tampa Bay Rays in an early afternoon game.  (All eyes except FOX’s Baseball Game of The Week who had their crews set up elsewhere.)  The real story, besides the game between two American League Eastern Division rivals who are fighting for a shot at the division crown, was Yankees Captain Derek Jeter’s quest to join the 3,000 Hit Club, (only 27 other members) and become the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits.   

As we all know now, Jeter got his 3,000 hit, a home run in the 3rd inning, and then some, going 5 for 5 and driving in the winning run in a Yankees 5 to 4 victory over the Rays.  But there was another story at Yankee Stadium on that afternoon, a story that took a lot of us by surprise and that was the story of Christian Lopez, a 23 year old Verizon Wireless Salesman from Upstate New York and his role in New York Yankees history. 
Lopez had gotten the tickets as a birthday gift from his girlfriend, Tara Johnson.  The two had been dating since they met at Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York..  Johnson had purchased the tickets (3 tickets to be exact – one for Christian, one for Tara and one for Raul, Christian’s dad!) on StubHub for $65 a piece.  When the Friday night game was rained out, the couple thought maybe they had a chance to witness Yankees History.  They certainly didn’t consider ever being a part of Yankees History.  After all, Jeter had only hit two home runs all year long.  Still, Christian, Tara and Christian’s dad were happy to be at the game, hoping to see The Captain become the first Yankee to achieve the 3,000 hit milestone. 
Lopez, his girlfriend and his father, took their seats in the first row of Section 236 in the left-field bleachers hoping to see Yankee History unfold before them.  The Stadium had that playoff feeling.   As Jeter stepped up to the plate in the 3rd inning to face Rays lefthander, All Star pitcher David Price, the entire sell out crowd stood up on their feet, many of them with cameras in their hands, waiting to get a photo of the moment Jeter got his 3,000 hit – Christian was one of them.  After running the count to 3 and 2, Jeter turned on a Price curve ball, and sent the ball to the left field bleachers, as the fans in Section 236 around Lopez jostled for position. 

The ball traveled on a line to Section 236…Jeter’s 3,000 hit…The Golden Ticket…The Winning Lottery Numbers…and after bouncing off of the senior Lopez’s hands, there it lay, Jeter’s 3,000 hit…the opportunity that could change someone’s life for the better…in a patch of grass in front of Christian Lopez.  And Christian did what he had done during his college football career at St. Lawrence University when a fumble would lie in front of him – he pounced on it.  Yankee Stadium security guards rushed in, not asking if Lopez was okay, but “more importantly” escorting Lopez from his seat in Section 236 while keeping one eye on Jeter’s 3,000 hit.
Some experts say the Jeter 3,000 Hit is a “game changer” – possibly worth in excess of $200,000 to $300,000.  And some people are saying, there is no way they would give the 3,000 hit ball back without “a little something for the effort!”  (A Caddyshack reference!)  And some people are saying, you’d be a fool not want to be financial rewarded for being at the right place at the right time…
None of those thoughts came across Christian Lopez’s mind, (his girlfriend was thinking of them!)  For him, a life long Yankees fan, this was about something bigger than money – this was about a moment in history, a moment that one man had worked for over the past 16 years, and Christian didn’t want to take that moment away from Derek Jeter.
Now, you can call Christian Lopez foolish, ignorant, senseless, or irresponsible and at 23 years old, perhaps each of us could have been described by one of the words at that age.  But for Christian Lopez, on this Saturday afternoon, the only words that mattered were Yankees History.

What would you do if the winning lottery ticket fell right into your lap…If Lady Luck was staring right at you…?   

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