There still is, we learned last week, genuine hope for the human race.
It was not to be found here in Washington, D.C., where noisy public squabbling over whether to take the United States into Chapter 11 or to raise the nation’s legal debt limit has continued to dominate. No, hope came to us in the unlikely and hefty 6-foot, 5-inch form of a young cell-phone salesman named Christian Lopez of Highland Mills, N.Y.
The reason Lopez’s name may sound at least vaguely familiar is that he, a lifelong New York Yankees fan, was in the bleachers and snagged Yankee captain Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit, a home run. The red-blooded, free-market thing for Lopez to do next was to auction the historic baseball on eBay, where even in this dismal economy, he could have expected to get well more than the $220,100 Andrew Morbitzer was paid in 2006 for the baseball Barry Bonds hit for his 715th home run.
But Lopez, a 2010 graduate of St. Lawrence University and carrying more than $100,000 in student loan debt, announced immediately that he would forgo any six-figure financial windfall.
“I’m going to give it to Derek,” Lopez announced during the game. And as he later explained to reporters: “It wasn’t about the money — it’s about a milestone. I mean, Mr. Jeter deserved it. ... Money’s cool and all, but I’m only 23 years old, and I have a lot of time to make that. It’s his accomplishment.”
These, I submit, are the refreshing words of an exceptionally classy young man. Oscar Wilde once defined a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and knows the value of nothing. By that standard, Lopez — who simply did the right thing as he saw it — may qualify as the most uncynical human being in the Western Hemisphere.
He was immediately criticized in print and on talk shows for being a sucker and not cashing in on his big chance. For me, an unreconstructed Boston fan, the New York Yankees have always inspired an unadulterated hate. The gifted Bill Mead put it well: “Most all good Americans hate the Yankees. It’s a value we cherish and pass on to our children like decency, democracy and the importance of a good breakfast.” Asked why, Mead explained: “They’re spoiled rotten. They think they’re such hot stuff. Their owner is obnoxious. Their fans are gross and rude.”
Of course, neither Mead nor I ever met Yankee fan Lopez, to whom the open-handed Yankees organization did give four luxury seats to every game for the rest of this season — including the playoffs — and a bunch of Yankee attire and memorabilia.
Here is where the decency of Lopez becomes infectious. Because he could face a tax bill of up to $13,000 on the expensive seats he was given and because “Miller High Life believes you should be rewarded for doing the right thing, not penalized,” that brewer publicly offered to pay whatever Lopez owes to the Internal Revenue Service. Then Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports and Mitchell Modell of Modell’s Sporting Goods each pledged a minimum of $25,000 toward paying off Lopez’s student loans.
Just maybe, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught us, goodness really is diffusive of itself.
At this dreary time when runaway greed and organized selfishness are epidemic — in both public and private life — the spontaneous, natural generosity and class of Christian Lopez, a new Pride of the Yankees, lift my spirits and rekindle my hope.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.