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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Derek Jeter's Historic 3,000th Hit! Christian Lopez Catches!

Derek Jeter's 3,000 hit ball nabbed by Christian Lopez at Yankee Stadium

It was the perfect birthday present for a lifelong Yankees fan like Christian Lopez: The historic baseball drilled by Derek Jeter for his 3,000th hit.

And while Lopez was thrilled by the gift, he wasted no time in returning the irreplaceable baseball Saturday afternoon to the future Hall of Famer.

"He deserved this," Lopez said in an interview on the YES Network. "He worked so hard for this. He's been in the league for so long. I'm not really the kind to take something away from him.

"He earned it."

Lopez, in a touch the Yankees captain would appreciate, outhustled the crazed crowd in Section 236 to snag Jeter's history-making homer.

His father - wearing a Joe DiMaggio No. 5 throwback jersey - offered some protection by hurling himself on Lopez's back once the ball was firmly in hand.

"It's amazing," the Highland Mills, N.Y., resident, told the Daily News, beaming from ear to ear while keeping a death grip on the ball. "I just picked it up off the floor."

Lopez, 23, was sitting in the first row of his section in left field - the luckiest seat in the stadium - when Jeter's third-inning solo blast landed.

"We bought him tickets a couple of weeks ago for his birthday, as a present," said Lopez's girlfriend, Tara Johnson. "He's a huge Yankees fan."

Asked about the moment her boyfriend snagged the one-of-a-kind baseball, Johnson said simply, "It was awesome."

Although Lopez insisted he wanted nothing in return for the ball, the Yankees provided him with four seats in a Yankee Stadium suite for the rest of the season - including the playoffs and World Series.

Lopez - wearing a Yankees baseball cap - was accompanied by his dad and his girlfriend to the afternoon game against the Rays.

He was quickly hustled out of the stands by Yankees security and a city police officer.

A sold-out Yankee Stadium exploded in exultation as Jeter wrote a new chapter in the storied franchise's history with his hit - a no-doubt-about-it home run.

The entire Yankees bench poured onto the field to hug Jeter as he crossed home plate in the bottom of the third inning. The crowd howled in delight at the historic blast by their hometown hero.

Mayor Bloomberg joined the chorus by hailing Jeter as a symbol of the city where he's starred for 17 seasons.

"Derek is someone who loves this city and who has a long history of giving back to the place and the people who helped make me the superstar he is," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer became the first player to collect 3,000 hits in pinstripes, and only the 28th in the history of baseball.

No. 2,999 came in Jeter's first at-bat, a bouncing single through the left side of the Tampa Bay infield as the stadium crowd stood and cheered.

"It's amazing!" said Richard Martinez, 27, of the Bronx. "It feels great. It means a lot."

The typically taciturn Jeter managed a smile as he was greeted by first base coach Mick Kelleher.

Outside the Bronx ballpark, there were still hard feelings about Friday night's decision to declare a rainout.

"We came to see Derek Jeter," said Giovanni Cortez, 18, who was shut out by Friday's storm. "This sucks."

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Sources: AP, NY Daily News, Youtube, Google Maps

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