THE GUY WHO CAUGHT DEREK JETER'S 3000TH HIT
“The Kingdom of heave is like a mustard seed... it is the smallest of seeds, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
So imagine, for a birthday gift a good friend buys you tickets to a baseball game to see a team you’ve been a fan of your whole life - the New York Yankees (would there be any other???) You’re there with your dad. One of your favorite players comes to the plate, Derek Jeter, and the entire stadium of over 50,000 people is waiting and wondering will this be the time he hits his 3,000 career hit. Jeter steps to the plate and not only does he get the hit, but he launches it - a Home Run ball that after it bobbles in your dads hands, lands in yours.
Not only is that the stuff that every little kid whose a fan (even some of us kids not so little or “young”) dreams of happening to them, but what’s even more amazing about this occurrence is this isn’t just being apart of a historic sports moment, but it’s like winning the lotto too. Before the game, sports memorabilia experts were saying that the value of the historic ball could gain 100,000-250,000 dollars from sports fanatics. With the additional theatrics of this being a home run ball hit in Yankee Stadium, some said it could have hit $400,000.
When all of this happened to a young man named Christian Lopez a week and a day ago though, unlike so many others in our day and age who would immediately think “what can I get for this, what do I deserve for catching this ball, who is going to give me the most or owes me the most...” Lopez’s reaction was that he just wanted to give Derek Jeter the ball back. Immediately he simply said this was Jeter’s milestone - he’s worked hard for his entire career for this, he deserves it. The story sounded way too good to be true.
And the guy wouldn’t budge at all believing that this was the right thing to do. Even when his father said he didn’t know if this is what he would’ve done. Even though, as the public learned later in the week, the guy has something like $100,000 in student loans to pay back, and on top of everything else the government was making noise that he might owe them taxes for this whole thing even though he didn’t make any money off of it. But for Christian, he just kept saying he knew that it was the right thing to do.
In the grand scheme of life, the story is kind of silly. Yeah it’s a game that people get paid way too much to play - It’s a baseball that people seem to get attached to like its some relic. All of us know there’s so many other more serious things that people face on a daily basis and real heroes are often not acknowledged for true selflessness. But this simple, small act of selflessness of a guy who didn’t want to hold a baseball hostage because he knows that Jeter has the money to pay for it if he wanted it is so refreshing, isn’t it? And the effect it’s had has been unprecedented too. Modells Sporting Goods is calling this Christian Lopez week and will donate 5% of the proceeds from any Yankee Merchandise purchased to help pay the guys Student Loan debt (with a minimum of $25,000 guaranteed) Miller Brewing is offering to pay for the tax bill saying “he should not be punished for doing the right thing.” Steiner sports, the company that would have probably auctioned the ball had Christian wanted to sell it, is auctioning a bunch of Yankees memorabilia with the profits going to Lopez, saying “the kids been good...I just wanted to do something good for him.”
So now all of these other people and companies have been moved by this simple, small act by this young man, that it made them want to do something to help him out... So now a whole slew of other people have been able to participate and continue this great story.
Christian Lopez helps illustrate part of what Jesus is getting at in these parables. When we were baptized, when we became a part of the Kingdom of God, we entered into the story of how His kingdom continues to grow. Christ’s message, his presence, his word is as alive as when he first walked and talked on this earth. That message, that presence, that word comes through you and I. People are changed and influenced by our witness, our testimony to what Jesus Christ means in our lives. They either are inspired or scandalized by the decisions, choices, and examples we put forth.
And it’s true, there are more than a fair share of weeds we can all point out to – both in and outside of the Church. And we get distracted by them and wonder “God why don’t you just eliminate all the weeds once and for all.” When we’re in a state of grace, knowing we’re free of some mortal sin, it’s easy to say such things. Fortunately, God is much more patient with all of us. On the other extreme, we can get down on ourselves. Arguing that sainthood, holiness is out of our reach. We look at someone like Mother Teresa who years after she’s died still captures our imaginations and think “we can never do what she did.”
But if these parables tell us anything, Jesus is inviting us - you and I into His story. He’s reminding us that when we chose to imitate Him in whatever corners of this vast creation in this precise moment of history - He is glorified. When we allow His voice to come out of our mouths, His gaze from our eyes, His gentle touch from our hands - the seemingly smallest, insignificant things can take on proportions larger than life. The mustard seed becomes this huge bush, the brush of yeast makes this doughy mass rise...
Who is it that will encounter Jesus Christ’s presence through you and I this day, this week? Who’s very life will change because of that encounter? Just because we simply reflected in a simple, small, loving way the love we’ve experienced ourselves in Jesus Christ?
What Jesus is trying to tell us in the parables is that Sainthood, holiness is only out of our reach if we choose to let it be. It was Mother Teresa who encouraged people to do small acts with great love. Those small actions done with great love are the seeds of our own holiness and they impact peoples lives in ways we may never have imagined. Christian Lopez returned a baseball he felt rightly belonged to someone else. Again, in the grand scheme of life it was basically a small act. But that small act had within it the seeds of kindness, charity, civility and selflessness which inspired a somewhat jaded, cynical world to act in the same way. Who would ever have imagined that right here in New York?
In the parable of the mustard seed, Christ reminds us that the same opportunity is ours if we so choose.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern