Trust me, Lopez did the right thing

NEW YORK -- Christian Lopez was at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the season-ticket box seats the New York Yankees gave him in exchange for Derek Jeter's 3000th-hit ball.

It certainly appeared as though Lopez was enjoying his newfound celebrity and was, indeed, happy with his decision not to ask for money for the treasured ball he caught when Jeter hit a 420-foot home run into the left-field stands.

Lopez, sporting a brand-new Yankees fitted cap and wearing a high-beam smile, was sitting in the first row on the third-base side, near the coach's box. Big-money seats with a prime view, for sure. He looked thrilled.

But not everyone thought Lopez was cool for his good deed. In fact, if you listened to the radio after Lopez's magical moment in the Bronx, some fans blasted him for not holding out for cash. Some callers thought he was naïve, foolish not to cash in. Others said they would have wanted at least $250,000 for the ball.

Lopez, however, slept like a baby. There was no tossing and turning, no regrets. "I feel awesome,'' the 23-year-old said from his seat at the game during the Yankees' 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. "It could happen to me 100 times and 100 times I would give the ball to Jeter. There's no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing.''

On Saturday, Lopez, who reportedly owes $200,000 in student loans, said the thought of trying to sell the ball never crossed his mind. And you have to believe him. His comments were so real, so honest. You could actually tell he was a true-blue Yankee fan and that meeting Jeter was a big deal.

It's obvious that many who have been critical of Lopez simply aren't baseball fans, have no idea about the relationship between baseball fans and the sport. Worse, their mere existence is rooted in money. It's so sad. Money is cool, but it's not everything.

Lopez did the right thing, the only thing a person should have done in that situation.

Most can't imagine being in such a situation, let alone making that decision when honestly faced with it.

But I know how Lopez must have felt. I was in his situation when I was about his age.

Somehow, I found Dave Winfield's 1977 All-Star ring in a parking lot at the Queens Center Mall, where I worked as a shoe salesman when I was in college back in 1984.

Rushing to get to work on time, I kicked something. For whatever reason, I looked down to see what it was and it was a ring, a big ring.

For sure, it was even more impressive once I picked it up and saw the name "Winfield" on the side of it. It was Winfield's first trip to an All-Star Game and it was played at Yankee Stadium.

Granted, there was no eBay or famous memorabilia house back then. But selling the ring never crossed my mind, not for a second. I am the biggest baseball fan. I was cool with showing some of my friends. But I knew it was special to Winfield and he would want it back.
I tried calling Yankee Stadium and telling someone there that I had the ring. Apparently, no one believed me because no one ever called back.

A few weeks passed. My friend, Jim Kauff, called me one day and told me the California Angels were in town. Reggie Jackson was back in town with the Angels. He suggested we try to take the ring to Winfield.

We get to the stadium and by chance see then-GM Clyde King at a hot dog stand outside near the media entrance at the old stadium.

I tell King that I have Winfield's ring and want to return it. He asked me to show it to him.

He looked at it and said to me and my friend to follow him.

It was amazing. We went right through security and into Yogi Berra's office. He was the manager at the time.

Yogi wasn't in there. They sent for Winfield. He came in. I handed him the ring. He asked what he could do for me. Being the aspiring sports writer I was, I asked for an interview.

Winfield took us out to the dugout to answer my questions.

It was outstanding, a memory I'll never forget.

After that, Winfield took the Yankee cap off his head and gave it to me. I still have it to this day. He also gave us tickets for the game, although we wound up watching the game from the press box.

The magical moment is forever a part of me. No amount of money could replace the feeling I had when I left Yankee Stadium.

I bet you Christian Lopez feels the same way.