Christian Lopez gets plenty of help

One good turn deserves another, and another, and another.

Christian Lopez, a 23-year-old cellphone salesman from Highland Mills, N.Y., decided to return Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit ball Saturday instead of trying to cash in. He received memorabilia and tickets from the New York Yankees but then found out he may have to pay taxes on that windfall. If he does, at least two companies said Wednesday that they are ready to strike out his debt.

But that's not all! For his generosity, Lopez will also get his own baseball card and has received a 2009 World Series ring.

According to accountants contacted by the New York Daily News and The New York Times, Lopez's tax bill on the Yankees merchandise could end up being anywhere from $5,000 to $14,000.

"Worse comes to worse, I'll have to pay the taxes," Lopez told the Daily News on Monday. "I'm not going to return the seats. I have a lot of family and friends who will help me out if need be.

"The IRS has a job to do, so I'm not going to hold it against them, but it would be cool if they helped me out a little on this."

Well, it looks as if he will get plenty of help. Miller High Life issued a statement Wednesday saying that the company would cover Lopez's tax bill.

"Miller High Life believes you should be rewarded for doing the right thing, not penalized," Miller High Life brand manager Brendan Noonan said in a statement. "We want to recognize Christian Lopez, and in turn everyone like him, for doing the common sense thing and help him continue to live the High Life."

The 2009 Yankees World Series ring came courtesy of Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell's Sporting Goods, who got the ring because Modell's sponsors the Yankees. Both Modell and Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports, guaranteed Lopez at least $25,000 each toward his outstanding student loans of $150,000.

Steiner said he got a call on Wednesday from his buddy Modell, and they got the ball rolling. Steiner set up an auction of memorabilia that eventually will include baseballs signed by both Lopez and Jeter and said Modell is pledging 5 percent from the sale of Yankees-related merchandise at the Modell's chain during what will be called "Christian Lopez Week."

"That itself is a totally awesome situation right now for all parties involved," Lopez said.

What impressed the sports executives -- as well as countless fans across the country -- was the way Lopez passed on the chance to sell the ball.

"Can you believe how good a mensch this kid was?" Steiner said.

Modell called Lopez "truly a true New Yorker" and "a class act." Steiner even taught Lopez how to properly sign a baseball.

Wearing a broad smile, a personalized Yankees hat, a DJ3K shirt and a new piece of jewelry, Lopez admitted at Modell's in Times Square he was "absolutely speechless right now."
Lopez has been overrun with requests since Saturday.

"It's been overwhelming to be honest with you," he said. "It's been a little crazy. But I'm handling it as best I can. I'm trying to get back to everybody I can."

That includes Topps, which said it will produce a trading card featuring Lopez that will be included in sets later this year. Company vice president for sports Mark Sapir says Topps employees were impressed by Lopez's selfless act.

"Yeah, I spoke with them a couple days ago," Lopez said. "All I know, is they kind of want to make a baseball card out of me."

Sapir says Topps also will have Lopez choose the image for its 2012 Derek Jeter card.

Lopez was an avid collector as a kid. He said he has "probably a couple thousand baseball cards."

His favorite? A Yankees card, of course. It depicts Babe Ruth and one of the Yankees' owners at the time he came over from the Red Sox in 1920.

"It's a very dear card to me. I've had it for 15 years now or so," Lopez said.

According to reports, the Yankees gave Lopez luxury box tickets for the rest of the season (including postseason), signed baseballs, bats and jerseys from Jeter. He also received front-row seats to Sunday's Yankees-Rays game.

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Greg Newman and The Associated Press was used in this report.