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Mr. Jeter, I've changed my mind: I want 150K for the baseball

Dear Derek Jeter, c/o the New York Yankees:

Please send me back my baseball.

I am Mr. Christian Lopez, 23, of Highland Mills, N.Y., and I have changed my mind.

I have decided to keep the home run ball that you belted for your 3,000th major league hit. After much discussion with my attorney, Gloria Allred, my financial adviser Gordon Gekko, my checkbook and myself, I want the ball back.

I made a beautiful mistake. I committed a benevolent error. Charity begins at home, not in a millionaire's trophy case. Memories are priceless, but they don't pay my taxes. I'm a cellphone salesman. Whaddaya want from me?

It is my baseball. I caught it last Saturday. This isn't the Bonds fiasco. There is no one else claiming to have caught the ball.

I am not the groundskeeper in St. Louis, who grabbed Mark McGwire's 62nd home run ball in 1998. He gave it to McGwire immediately, just for the chance to meet Big Mac. Given what transpired before Congress a few years ago, can that guy wash his right hand enough now?

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Nothing personal, Mr. Jeter. You seem like a decent fellow, regal in a way, a great Yankee and a fine first-ballot addition to the hall of saints in Cooperstown. It's not about you. It's just that I can't make $150,000 playing Keno, yeah?

That's what I've heard the ball is worth. The circumstances couldn't be better, a dealer in Cincinnati said. You know: You're the Yankee captain. You're the first Yankee to have 3,000 hits. You went 5-for-5. The big ball was a home run. Perfect.

"If it were sold fast at a national sports auction, it would be in the $100,000 to $150,000 range,'' said Steve Wolter, a memorabilia dealer and collector. Wolter has the midlife-crisis red Corvette that Marge Schott gave Pete Rose, for Hit No. 4,192. Right on his showroom floor. The Jeter ball "is better than any 3,000-hit ball in the last 20 years,'' Wolter said.

Last month, Doug Allen of Legendary Auctions in Chicago, figured the ball could be worth as much as $250,000. That's a lot of iPhones, Jeets.

I love the Yankees. It was an honor to meet you, Mr. Jeter. And immediately afterward, I did appear at a news conference to say, "Money is cool and all, but I'm only 23 years old. I have a lot of time to make that.''

I was in love. Love is strange. I am sorry.

Now please give me back my baseball.

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I feel a little bad. I mean, I have spent the last two days accepting congratulations. I got free bagels from Sal and a free beer from Irish Mike. Highland Mills isn't the world's biggest town: Four thousand folks, give or take. They all know my name now. Yesterday, my name was golden. Today, not so much.

But I got to thinking: What do professional sports do for me?

Not you, Mr. Jeter. The games themselves. As a whole. All sports. What do they do for me? Tickets are expensive, parking is nuts. I pay $8 for a beer, $65 for a decent seat at Yankee Stadium. For one baseball game. That's a lot of money for someone like me.

Fans are the most abused species on the planet. Owners extort cities for stadiums that cities can't afford. Players should lease space in courtrooms. Teams make it so the proverbial family of four has to sell blood to take in a ballgame. The NFL is fighting over how to slice a $9 billion annual revenue pie, and I'm supposed to feel guilty about auctioning a $150,000 baseball?

Every time something occurs in a major sport that results in more money being needed, you can be sure it's not the owners or players opening their vaults.

They make money off me. Isn't it fair I do the same? Turnabout is fair play, right?

Did I mention it was my baseball?

I'm being called heartless for my change of tune. I prefer to see myself as opportunistic. People have said I "did the right thing.'' By doing what? Giving a baseball worth six figures to a guy worth eight? Nothing personal, Derek -- may I call you Derek? -- but you make more in a day than I spend in a year.

We'll start the bidding at $150,000.

And by the way, I am doing the right thing. You might have noticed, I just graduated college last year. I'm still paying off student loans. I don't have kids, but I'm guessing I will someday. I will not burden them with student loans. That is the right thing. I'm taking the $150,000 and putting a kid or two through college.

Pay it forward, you say?

Exactly. You pay me, I pay Harvard or Hofstra, so my kids don't have to.

If you could guarantee I'm going to hit a number or fly to Vegas and pick up a quick $150,000 at the tables, great. We both know that's not going to happen, Derek.

There's enough money to go around here. Enough for everyone.

So here's what we do:

You send me back my baseball. I'll pay the postage. We solicit the help of an impartial memorabilia expert. He puts a value on the ball. If you want the ball, pay up, or have Minka do it. It's all yours. I'm giving you first dibs.

If you decline, it goes up for auction. Either way, I'm getting paid. I liked being magnanimous. I enjoyed being "honorable.'' I like six figures more.

Steve Wolter said Monday, "I'm waiting for the day the fan comes into the press conference and says, 'Mr., Jeter, I'd be happy to let you have this ball, for a hundred thousand dollars.' It will happen some day.''

Yeah, such as today. My baseball, please, Mr. Jeter. I have bills to pay. And I have to believe if our roles were reversed, you'd be doing the same thing. By the way: I love watching you play.

Sincerely,

Christian Lopez