After a fan fell out of the club level of seats at Rangers Ballpark while trying to catch a foul ball last July, the team immediately assessed the railings throughout the stadium.
Since all the railings exceeded international and local building codes, and the only similar accident occurred during the ballpark’s first game in 1994, it was determined that everything was adequate. Though there already were signs cautioning fans against leaning or sitting on the railings, the team made sure the signs were in every section.
A year and a day later, an eerily similar fall, this one fatal, has the Rangers again facing questions about safety at the stadium and evaluating whether they need to make changes.
Funeral services will be held Monday for Shannon Stone, a Brownwood firefighter who died less than an hour after he tumbled headfirst over a rail out of the seats in left field during a game Thursday night. Stone fell about 20 feet to concrete behind the outfield wall after reaching out to catch a ball tossed his way by All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton.
The Rangers already have been in contact with city officials, as well as ballpark contractors and architects, about how to ensure safety for fans attending games played in the American League champion’s stadium.
”More meetings will be taking place early in the week,” team spokesman John Blake said Saturday. ”The safety of Rangers fans is our top priority and we will be doing a thorough review to address this in a timely manner.”
All flags inside and around the stadium, including three dozen Texas state flags flying high above center field, remained at half-staff for Saturday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics. Players from both teams again wore black ribbons on their uniforms.
Texas won 7-6 after Hamilton hit a game-ending, two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning. It was Hamilton’s fourth hit of the game.
The protective railing in left field where Stone fell is at least 33 inches high.
Arlington building officials inspected the stadium Friday in the wake of Stone’s fatal fall and again determined that everything was up to code. City building requirements are that guardrails must be at least 26 inches high.
”We’re going to look into anything that we can do to make our stadium safer for our fans,” team president Nolan Ryan said. ”We will do a study on that, and we don’t know what, if there is anything, that we can do. But we certainly are open to anything that we can do.”
Stone’s funeral will be held at First United Methodist in Brownwood, a town about 150 miles from Arlington. The 39-year-old Stone had been a firefighter there for 18 years.
Visitation is scheduled for Sunday night at Davis Morris Funeral Home in Brownwood.
Stone was at Thursday night’s game with his 6-year-old son, Cooper.
During the second inning, Hamilton heard someone call out to him for a ball. He turned to see Stone and his son in the first row of seats, then responded to the pair with a nod. The boy’s favorite player is the reigning AL MVP.
A few pitches later, Oakland’s Conor Jackson hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Hamilton scooped up the ball and tossed it their way.
When Shannon Stone reached out and caught the ball, he slipped over the rail and fell as his son watched and a nearby fan unsuccessfully tried to grab the man.
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.
Stone fell through a gap of several feet between the first row of seats and the 14-foot-high outfield wall that has a video scoreboard on it.
That electronic board was installed before the 2009 season, replacing a hand-operated scoreboard that had been there since the stadium had opened.
As part of those changes, a deck-like covering that had been over the gap was removed. That covering, in part, protected workers operating the old scoreboard from falling objects such as baseballs and items dropped from the stands.
Ryan said that decking also created a safety hazard when baseballs were there, not far out of reach from fans in the seats.
”What we found was that it encouraged people when a ball was up there to jump down on to that surface and get the ball,” Ryan said. ”And we felt like that it increased risk, and so we removed it trying not to encourage people to do that.”
A black tarpaulin was installed over the gap before Friday night’s game. Ryan said the purpose of that tarp was to keep fans from taking pictures or gawking at the area behind the outfield wall where Stone fell.
Last July at Rangers Ballpark, a man survived after tumbling from an upper deck along the first-base side as he tried to catch a foul ball.
Tyler Morris, a firefighter from the Lake Cities Fire Department near Dallas, sustained a fractured skull and sprained ankle when he fell over a rail and dropped onto seats where other fans were sitting.
Morris then 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 sustained multiple injuries when she fell about 35 feet as she posed for a picture after the Rangers’ first game at the stadium.