ARLINGTON, Texas — Go to the ballpark and catch a foul ball: It’s what every fan wants to do.
And so it was for 6-year-old Cooper Stone.
He and his dad even stopped to buy a new glove on the way to the Texas Rangers game Thursday night. Even better, their seats were in the left field stands, shouting distance from Cooper’s favorite player, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton.
Maybe, just maybe, he would throw one their way. In the second inning, he did.
Hamilton grabbed a foul ball that ricocheted into left field, and tossed it into the stands. The boy’s father, 6-foot-3 Shannon Stone, caught it, tumbled over a 33-inch-tall railing and plunged 20 feet onto concrete below, right in front of his son.
The 39-year-old firefighter died a short time later at a hospital.
“That’s what they were there for, was to catch a ball,” Shannon Stone’s mother, Suzann, said. “Cooper loves baseball and he’s a big Josh Hamilton fan. Had his jersey.”
Pitching great Nolan Ryan, now the team’s president, said the tragedy “hits us at our roots of who we are.”
“We’re about making memories, family entertainment,” he said. “I certainly understand — and I’m no different than our fan base — when I was younger and I went to the ballpark my hope was to get a foul ball.
“You can see how many people come into our ballpark with gloves, just hoping to have that opportunity,” Ryan said. “That’s just part of the experience of being there.”
On Friday, players had the option of getting grief counseling, and they wore black ribbons on their uniforms. At Rangers Ballpark, flags flew at half-staff and a black tarpaulin covered the gap where Stone fell.
A moment of silence was observed before the Rangers and Oakland Athletics played the second game of their four-game series.
Hamilton, still grappling with the aftermath of the wrenching night, said Friday he could hear the boy screaming for his dad after Stone fell. The player said he remembers the fall “like it happened in slow motion.”
Jenny Stone, the victim’s 36-year-old widow, worried how her only son would recover from the horror of not just watching his father fall but riding in the front of the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
At the request of the Stone family, MLB.com has not posted video of the accident.
“She’s very concerned about her son and the impact that this is having on him,” said Ryan, who spoke with her by phone in Brownwood, about 150 miles from Arlington. “She asked if I could do anything about the video footage that is being shown.”
Replays showed the boy watching as his father stretched and reached out to grab the ball and then fell 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.
All-Star closer Chris Perez of the Indians said the tragedy will make him think twice about tossing a ball to a fan.
“I’m definitely going to make sure it is nowhere near a railing,” he said. “When you are a kid, it’s cool because it is a lasting memory. But when I see adults knocking one another over to get one, not an historic home run ball or something like that, but just a baseball … well, I just shake my head.”
City officials say 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.
There have been other falls at the 17-year-old stadium. Last July, a man survived after tumbling from an upper deck as he tried to catch a foul ball. In 1994, a woman fell about 35 feet as she posed for a picture after the Rangers’ first game.
After last year’s accident, Ryan said the team studied the railings and felt safety was adequate; he said he wasn’t prepared to say if any changes might be made now.
“As an organization we are going to be looking into this because our No. 1 concern is the safety of our fans,” Ryan said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans.”
Major League Baseball promised a review of the incident “to ensure a safe environment for our fans.”
It was the second fatal fall at a major league stadium this season.
In May, a fan died after falling about 20 feet and striking his head on concrete during a Colorado Rockies game; witnesses told police he had been trying to slide down a staircase railing and lost his balance.
John McHale Jr., Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of administration, said there is no centralized process for overseeing safety at ballparks and the Texas accident may change that. 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.
Shannon Stone’s mother told The Associated Press that her son and grandson were “almost attached at the hip” and went to Rangers games often, including one of the team’s World Series games last season.
She was watching Thursday night and hoping she would catch a glimpse of them.
“Cooper told me where they were sitting so I could look for him on television,” she said, adding that she was out of the room when her son fell. “I missed it. I didn’t see it.”
Her youngest son, Chad, called afterward and broke the news to his parents.
Fire officials said Stone, who witnesses said was conscious after the fall, “went into full arrest” in the ambulance and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Authorities said Friday that he died from blunt force trauma to the head caused by a fall from a height.
“The Stone family is devastated by this tragedy,” according to a family statement. “The family appreciates your thoughts, kind words and prayers and asks that you respect their privacy during their difficult time.”
Stone was a firefighter for 18 years. In 2007, he and another firefighter ran into a smoke-filled home in nearby Bangs to rescue a woman in her 70s, according to story in the Brownwood Bulletin.
He told the paper he was only doing what any other firefighter would have.
His mother said he was fun-loving and enjoyed being a father and husband. He would do all he could to make as many of Cooper’s T-ball games — even when he was on duty at the fire station.
“I always told him if he wasn’t my son I would want him as my best friend,” she said, choking back sobs. “He was so good, so caring of everybody.”