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. 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 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 hasn’t 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.”