Rangers take field day after tragedy with heavy hearts

Posted Friday, Jul. 08, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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Memorial fund

Texas Rangers Foundation has established a memorial fund in honor of Shannon Stone. Visit www.texasrangers.com for information.

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ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton didn't want a day off Friday. The option was presented to him, but the reigning American League MVP declined.

A day, a week or a month wouldn't change anything that happened Thursday night, when Hamilton tossed a foul ball toward a man and his son in the front row of the left-field stands.

The man tumbled over the protective railing into a gap between the stands and the out-of-town scoreboard, suffering various injuries to his arms and head, and went into full cardiac arrest on his way to a hospital. He died of blunt force trauma, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled.

So, Hamilton was back in left field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in a game the Texas Rangers said they played with somberness in their hearts after the death of Brownwood firefighter Shannon Stone.

Hamilton had the heaviest burden. Though he called Stone's death a "freak accident," Hamilton could still see the man falling some 20 feet from Section 5 and hear the screams of 6-year-old Cooper.

That contributed to a long Thursday night and a steady stream of prayers to the Stone family.

"It was just hard for me, hearing the little boy screaming for his daddy after he had fallen, and then being home with my kids, really hit home last night," said Hamilton, who learned of Stone's death in a team meeting after the game.

"That's one of the main things I remember. It's definitely on my mind and in my heart. I can't stop praying today for them.

"I understand there's nothing you can do to change it now. I just remember it happened in slow motion. Obviously, as soon as it happened, I couldn't help but think about what was happening behind that fence."

Emergency personnel responded quickly to Stone, 39, who was conscious and able to speak when transported to John Peter Smith Hospital. Team president Nolan Ryan said that Cooper was seated in the front seat of the ambulance.

John Peter Smith, with its noted trauma center, was the hospital of choice -- even though Texas Health Arlington Memorial is only five minutes from Rangers Ballpark -- based on the seriousness of Stone's injuries.

"He didn't have a full arrest at the time of their departure," said Lt. Pedro Arevalo, spokesman for the Arlington Fire Department. "Being that he was still breathing and his heart was still pumping, he met the criteria of going to the trauma center for treatment of his injuries.

"If his heart had stopped while at the incident, he would have been transported to the closest hospital for treatment."

The Rangers didn't make any immediate alterations to the height of the railings at the ballpark. The railing in left field is 33 inches above the walking surface, which is 7 inches higher than the minimum required in the 2003 International Building Code.

Ryan said that Arlington officials inspected the ballpark Friday morning and said it was up to code.

The only change the Rangers had made was the addition of a black tarp over the area where Stone fell. But that was done to prevent fans from taking photos of the accident site.

Ryan said a decking formerly spanned the area between the stands and the scoreboard, but Rangers officials determined it could encourage fans to step onto it while chasing a ball and possibly fall onto the field of play.

Ryan, though, said that a second falling incident in the span of 366 days is "disturbing." Tyler Morris, a firefighter in Lake Cities, suffered a fractured skull and ankle last July when he went over the railing on the second deck and fell 30 feet into the lower bowl going after a foul ball.

"What we did last year when we had the accident, we came in and did a study of our rails, and they exceed code, and because of that... we felt what we had was adequate," Ryan said. "As an organization, we're going to look into this, because our No. 1 concern is the safety of our fans, and we'll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans."

Despite the Stone tragedy, Ryan and Hamilton both endorsed players continuing to give baseballs to players.

Baseball historian Robert Gorman, who has researched more than 1,200 baseball-related deaths of players, coaches, umpires and fans, said that there have been 21 fan fatalities since 1969.

To Gorman's knowledge, Stone's death is the first to occur while reaching for a ball.

"Fall fatalities are a fairly modern phenomenon," Gorman said. "It's a product of the size of the stadiums and how big they are now."

The Rangers' attention Friday was on the Stone family. Ryan said that he spoke to Stone's wife, Jenny, who expressed concern for the couple's son.

There was a moment of silence before the first pitch against Oakland, and both teams wore ribbons in honor of Stone. A memorial fund has been established through the Texas Rangers Foundation.

"It's one of the saddest things I've ever seen at the ballpark," Ryan said. "It really goes down to the basic roots of who we are and what we stand for. And as a father and a grandfather, my heart goes out to that family."

Staff writers Susan Schrock and Andrea Ahles contributed to this report.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760.

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