July 12, 2011 -- The Yankee fan who caught Derek Jeter's historic home run ball this past weekend could have kept the ball and sold it to a collector for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Instead, Christian Lopez gave the ball to Jeter and in return may get hit with a hefty tax bill from IRS.
The ball caught by Lopez, 23, was Jeter's 3,000th hit, a milestone in the Yankee icon's career. The grateful Yankees showered Lopez with gifts including four box seats in the president's box at Yankee Stadium for the rest of the regular season and the post season, three bats, three balls and two jerseys all signed by Jeter.
The seats and the memorabilia were valued in some estimates at $50,000. That might cost the recent college grad, who has $150,000 in outstanding student loans and works at Verizon Wireless. According to tax experts, that amount could result in a $14,000 check to the IRS.
"I'm just waiting for the IRS phone call," Lopez told ABC News.com today. "I'm not going to let something like the IRS stand in my way from enjoying myself. For right now, I'm going to enjoy everything I can."
The prospect of having to pay taxes on something he gave away is a problem for the future, Lopez said.
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he said.
IRS spokesman Grant Williams said, "I can tell you that the IRS cannot speculate and declines to comment."
"I don't have any regrets," said Lopez. "The tickets were a great gesture by the Yankees. I'm positive they didn't think about the repercussions of it."
Man Who Caught Derek Jeter's Ball May Be in Pickle With IRS
Lopez said that he's hoping he can keep the season tickets.
"I don't know what exactly I'm going to do yet. I'm still talking to my dad and mom about it. From my point of view, I want to get to every game possible, but I'll see what's going on," said Lopez.
Many tax experts believe Lopez could beat any attempt by the IRS to collect on good luck and believe that it's likely he will be able to write off the Yankee largesse as non-taxable gifts.
"It amazes me that these sort of things become much more complicated from a tax standpoint. When someone catches and returns a baseball, they don't think of it as having tax ramifications," said tax lawyer John Barrie of Bryan Cave LLP who specializes in taxation and tax controversy.
Barrie said that since it seems Lopez gave the ball back without expectation of receiving anything in return, that could be a determining factor as to whether or not Lopez could get off the hook.
Marc Gerson of the Miller and Chevalier law firm, which specializes in tax law, said he questions if the tickets and Jeter memorabilia that Lopez received will be taxable.
"There's a lot of discussion every time this comes up," said Gerson, referring to other iconic home run balls that are caught. "Some people would say that getting the memorabilia is taxable, but there's an equal amount of weight given to it be a gift ? I think the stronger argument is that it's the receipt of a gift from the Yankees to the individual."
Not all of the fans go for the memorabilia. While a fan returned the ball Mark McGwire hit to break Roger Maris' recordwith homer number 62, another fan sold McGwire's homer number 70 for $3 million. Barry Bonds' record setting homer was sold for $752,000 by a fan.
Derek Jeter Fan May Be Hit With Tax Bill
The issue of tax ramifications following fans catching historic baseballs was addressed by the IRS in 1998 when the agency released a statement specifically addressing fans that catch home run balls and return them immediately. It stated that generally fans will not be taxed under these circumstances. This, however, only applies to the ball, and not to the tickets and memorabilia that Lopez received afterwards.
Lopez was sitting with his father, girlfriend and two family friends in the left field corner bleachers of Yankee Stadium Saturday night when Jeter's 3,000th hit end up in his hands. Lopez said catching the ball was "surreal."
"I really didn't get the full grasp of it until after the game ? I thought 'this is craziness.' My stomach was in my throat," said Lopez, who lives in Highland Mills, N.Y.
His girlfriend Tara Johnson, who went to St. Lawrence College in New York with him, got him the tickets for the big game.
"When I had the idea of buying the tickets, I wasn't even thinking about [the 3,000th hit]," said Johnson. She said Lopez has promised to bring her to as many games as she can make.