Tragedy strikes at baseball game

Published 7:11 pm Friday, July 8, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas — Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton grabbed the foul ball that ricocheted into left field and tossed it into the stands, as he has countless times before.
Shannon Stone caught the ball but tumbled over a railing and plunged 20 feet onto concrete below, right in front of his 6-year-old son and a handful of fans. The 39-year-old firefighter from Brownwood died at a hospital a short time later, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
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, whose favorite player is Hamilton.
“I always told him if he wasn’t my son I would want him as my best friend,” Suzann Stone said, choking back sobs. “He was so good, so caring of everybody.”
Oakland reliever Brad Ziegler was in the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field, not far from where Stone fell. When Stone was put on a stretcher, Ziegler said, the firefighter told his tenders that his son was “up there by himself” and asked them to check on the boy.
“He had his arms swinging. He talked and was conscious,” Ziegler said. “We assumed he was OK. But when you find out he’s not, it’s just tough.”
Stone is survived by his wife, 36-year-old Jenny, and the boy, according to Melanie Larose, a family friend who released a statement on behalf of the family Friday.
“The Stone family is devastated by this tragedy,” Larose said. “The family appreciates your thoughts, kind words and prayers and asks that you respect their privacy during their difficult time.”
Ronnie Hargis was sitting next to Stone in the first row of seats in left field and the men had been talking before the accident. Hargis said he reached out to try to grab Stone, who fell headfirst through a gap of several feet that is between the seats and the 14-foot-high outfield wall.
“He went straight down. I tried to grab him, but I couldn’t,” Hargis said. “I tried to slow him down a little bit.”
There was an audible gasp in the stands at Rangers Ballpark when Stone tumbled over the rail, sliding awkwardly between the wall and seats has a handful of fans watched him fall. The little boy, like his dad wearing a cap in the bright sun, was behind the firefighter as he tipped over the railing.
The accident was eerily similar to one almost exactly a year earlier. Another firefighter fell about 30 feet from the second-deck of seats down the right-field line while trying to catch a foul ball on July 6, 2010. Tyler Morris, a firefighter from the Lake Cities Fire Department near Dallas, fractured his skull and sprained an ankle last year when he dropped onto seats where other fans were sitting.
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 during a game against Arizona.
Major League Baseball said it was saddened by the latest incident and said “we will carefully review this incident with our clubs to continue to ensure a safe environment for our fans.”
Arlington Fire Department officials said Stone, who witnesses said was conscious after the fall, “went into full arrest” while being transported by ambulance. He was pronounced dead at a Fort Worth hospital less than an hour after he fell.
“We had a very tragic accident tonight and one of our fans lost their life reaching over the rail trying to get a ball,” team president Nolan Ryan said somberly after the Rangers’ 6-0 victory over Oakland. “As an organization, and as our team members and our staff, we’re very heavy-hearted about this, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”
Stone was a lieutenant and had been with the Brownwood Fire Department nearly 18 years, said City Manager Bobby Rountree. Brownwood is about 150 miles southwest of Arlington.
Safawna Dunn, who was sitting nearby, said Stone was calling for Hamilton to throw him the ball. Dunn said the victim was conscious when he was taken away on a stretcher.
Ryan described Hamilton as being “very distraught over this, as the entire team is.”
The Rangers’ clubhouse was closed to reporters after the game.
Rangers starter Derek Holland, who pitched a four-hit shutout, turned and glanced briefly at people looking down where Stone had land behind the outfield wall that supports a video board for replays and scores. Catcher Mike Napoli had motioned toward the outfield and Jackson looked that way as well before play resumed.
Between innings, Rangers manager Ron Washington spoke briefly with one of the umpires. Texas designated hitter Michael Young could be seen talking to A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki and pointing toward where last year’s fall happened.
“We knew about it, we didn’t know exactly what happened,” Washington said. “It’s sad, it’s very sad.”
Former President George W. Bush, who used to be the team’s managing general partner and often attends games, was sitting in the front row with Ryan near the Texas dugout when the accident happened. Ryan left moments later while Bush remained in the seats.
Ryan said Bush was aware of what was happening.
“It’s just devastating. I don’t even know what to say. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It filtered into our dugout. … I made a little announcement to the team after the game. Certainly baseball is not very important in light of something like that.”
After Morris was hurt last year, he called the incident a “100 percent, total accident that could have happened to anybody.” He said he didn’t blame the Rangers or the ballpark. In 1994, a Plano woman posing for a picture after the Rangers’ first game in the stadium sustained multiple injuries after she fell about 35 feet.
Ryan wasn’t prepared to talk about what changes, if any, might be made at the stadium.
“Tonight, we’re not prepared to speak about anything further than the accident and the tragedy,” Ryan said. “That’s where I’m going to leave it.”