Nolan Ryan would always try to accommodate kids clamoring for a baseball when he was pitching. And the new owner of the Texas Rangers has had a goal of helping create cherished memories for families, for fathers and sons attending games together.
A Texas firefighter’s trip to a Rangers game with his 6-year-old son turned tragic when Shannon Stone tumbled over a railing after reaching out and catching a foul ball tossed his way by reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, his son’s favorite player.
Stone plunged about 20 feet onto the concrete below Thursday night and died about an hour later. The accident stunned players and fans alike, and it left a 36-year-old widow worried about how the boy, Cooper Stone, will recover from watching his father fall.
Shannon Stone’s mother, Suzann Stone, told the Associated Press that her son and young Cooper had gone to the game in hopes of catching a ball in the stands. They even stopped on the way to Arlington to buy a new glove for the boy.
“That’s what they were there for was to catch a ball,” the 63-year-old mother said Friday, choking back sobs. “Cooper loves baseball, and he’s a big Josh Hamilton fan. Had his jersey.”
A moment of silence was observed before the Rangers and Oakland Athletics played the second game of their four-game series Friday night, and players for both teams wore black ribbons on their uniforms.
“This just happens to be a situation that turned into a great tragedy,” Ryan said Friday, the flags at Rangers Ballpark at half-staff and a black tarpaulin covering the gap where Stone fell. “It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen at the ballpark. ... As a father and a grandfather, my heart goes out for that family.”
At the request of the Stone family, MLB.com has not posted video of the accident.
Ryan said he spoke by telephone Friday with Jenny Stone, the firefighter’s widow in Brownwood, about 150 miles away from Arlington.
“She’s very concerned about her son and the impact that this is having on him,” Ryan said. “She asked if I could do anything about the video footage that is being shown.”
Replays showed the boy watching his 6-foot-3 father stretch and reach out to grab the ball and then falling through a gap of several feet between the left-field seats and the 14-foot-high outfield wall that has a video scoreboard on it.
Suzann Stone said she was watching the game.
“Cooper told me where they were sitting so I could look for him on television,” she said, adding that she was not watching when her son fell. “I missed it. I didn’t see it.”
City officials said the building code requires the guardrails to be at least 26 inches high. Ed Dryden, Arlington’s building official, said railings throughout the park are 33 inches high.
Dryden and Jim Parajon, the city’s director of community development and planning, said they made sure on Friday that the railings where Stone fell were up to code.
“It is a very tragic situation, and we feel for the family of the victim,” Parajon said.
Major League Baseball promised a review of the incident “to ensure a safe environment for our fans.”
John McHale Jr., MLB’s executive vice president of administration, said there is no centralized process for overseeing safety at ballparks and Stone’s death may change that.
“I think the enormity of this tragedy requires we create a process, if there isn’t one already,” he said. “I think we’re going to communicate as closely as we can with the Rangers to find out what happened and to share that information with the other clubs.”
He said most safety issues are left to the clubs.
“There are building codes, there are local ordinances and the clubs are responsible with complying,” he said. “We have a history of trying to control balls thrown in the stands centrally and I think that probably didn’t work, so we rely on the clubs to make their own decisions on how that should be done or not done in their ballpark.”
The accident was similar to one almost exactly a year earlier.
Tyler Morris, a firefighter from the Lake Cities Fire Department near Dallas, fractured his skull and sprained an ankle on July 6, 2010, after falling about 30 feet from the second deck of seats down the right-field line while trying to catch a foul ball.
“The fact that we’ve had two in the last year is disturbing,” Ryan said. “As an organization we are going to looking into this because our No. 1 concern is the safety of our fans. We’ll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans.”
After the accident last year, Ryan said the team did a study of the railings. He said the team felt the safety was adequate, but wasn’t prepared to say if any changes might be made now.
It was the second fatal fall at a major-league stadium this season. In May, a 27-year-old man died after he fell about 20 feet and struck his head on concrete during a Colorado Rockies game. Witnesses told police that the man had been trying to slide down a staircase railing at Coors Field and lost his balance.
Ryan said grief counseling was available for players if they needed to talk to anybody about what happened in the second inning of the Rangers’ 6-0 win over Oakland. Players were informed of the fan’s death after the game, when the Texas clubhouse was closed to reporters.
“This is really just one of those freak accidents that happen, it’s definitely an accident,” Ryan said.
He also said the Rangers Foundation was setting up a memorial account for Stone and are making a significant donation to start it.