Josh Hamilton in Rangers lineup
Fans Recount Tragedy
So when he threw a foul ball earlier in the game to the ball girl in left field, he heard voices behind him say: "Hamilton, how about the next one?"
Hamilton looked up to see Cooper Stone, a 6-year-old sitting with his father. Hamilton nodded to let them know he heard them and when Conor Jackson's foul ball ricocheted off the seats down the left field line and bounced right to Hamilton, he didn't hesitate to turn and flip it toward 39-year-old Shannon Stone.
If I think I need some time, I'll take the time but there is nothing I can do by not playing that I can do playing.” -- Josh Hamilton
"It looked like somebody that would love to have a baseball," Hamilton said.
Stone reached out, went over the rail and fell approximately 20 feet onto concrete, tumbling into a gap between the left-field railing and the left-field wall, which contains a videoboard with the out-of-town scores. Cooper Stone witnessed the fall.
Shortly after Stone fell over the rail, Hamilton heard Cooper's voice.
"Hearing the little boy screaming for his daddy after he had fallen and then being home with my kids really hit home last night," Hamilton said. "It's definitely on my mind and in my heart. I can't stop thinking about that little boy and his family."
Michael Young talked to Hamilton Thursday night to remind him that he had the team's support.
"He knows his teammates are here for him," said Young, who added he thought under the circumstances that Hamilton was doing fine. "It was a total accident. He's flipped hundreds of balls into the seats, it was just an accident. He shouldn't change a thing."
Hamilton drove home and after staying up with his wife Katie and his kids for a while, tried to get some sleep. He arrived at the park on Friday and met manager Ron Washington, who told the slugger he could take the night off. Hamilton said no.
"The bottom line: He wanted to be out there," Washington said.
Hamilton was in the lineup Friday in left field, the same spot where Thursday's tragedy took place just behind the left-field scoreboard. He went 1-for-5 and scored a run in the Rangers' 8-5 win over the A's.
Hamilton said he could hear fans shouting encouraging words to him, telling him that they loved him and were praying for him. He received a nice ovation when he came up to the plate the first time -- at least half of the announced crowd of 37,858 stood.
Hamilton also hit a fan with a foul ball off his bat. The teenage male fan had blood on his face and was tended to by stadium personnel before he walked away, smiling while he held a compress to his head.
Rangers officials said the fan was treated at the stadium and was OK. They didn't identify him or provide additional details.
"I saw it happen," Hamilton said. "There are certain times that people can't help but get hit, but I just wish that people would pay a little more attention and not be on the phone, not be turned away from us talking. It's a little different when you are farther away from the plate, farther away from the actual play. But when you're sitting around the dugouts, sitting just off the side of the net, the ball can hurt you."
Before the game, Hamilton explained his decision to play.
"There's nothing that would benefit me from not being out there playing and trying to help these guys," Hamilton said pregame. "I've talked with Wash. I've talked with (first-base coach) Gary Pettis about if I feel like I need some time, I'll take some time.
"All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. We don't always understand what the plan is when these things happen, but they will."
Hamilton said he is relying on his Christian faith, just as he has during an inspiring comeback from cocaine and alcohol addictions that almost kept him from ever playing in the major leagues.
The reigning AL MVP, whose major league debut in 2007 came almost eight years after he was drafted as the No. 1 overall pick, was selected by fans to start his fourth consecutive All-Star Game next week.
Rangers president Nolan Ryan said Friday that the club has a grief counselor to talk to any employees, including players, and that if a player felt like he needed a few days away from the game that the club would "certainly be open to that."
Hamilton said the whole thing happened in "slow motion" as he watched Stone reach out for the ball and tumble over the railing.
"When that happened, it was just disbelief," Hamilton said. "Obviously, I knew what's behind there. People don't realize what is behind there, so they might not have thought it was a big deal. But I understood that this person would be hurt really bad. I was in shock. I just kept looking behind me, hoping somebody was back there helping him."
A wake will be held Sunday, and Stone's funeral will be held Monday at the First United Methodist Church in Brownwood, Texas. The fire department will honor Stone with a full procession, including bagpipes, trucks and the entire staff in full uniform. Several fire departments in the surrounding areas have volunteered to cover the Brownwood fire department so all of its firefighters can attend. Hamilton said he didn't think about the throw once he tossed it.
"As a player throwing the ball, you don't know what's going through that person's mind who is trying to catch the ball," Hamilton said. "It's something to think about as far as reassessing, re-evaluating where you throw it and how you throw it."
The incident won't keep Hamilton from throwing balls to fans in the future.
"That's what the game is all about," Hamilton said. "The fans come, they pay to see you play, they want to have a good experience at the ballpark. And player interaction is part of a good experience. You'll look carefully at where the fans are and how high they are up and what's the railing like. All of these things will come into play now."
Hamilton said he plans on reaching out to the family, but wants to give them time to deal with their grief before doing so.
"I can't think what they're going through right now," Hamilton said. "The Hamilton family is definitely grieving over this incident. I know a lot of other families are as well and fans as well. It's just a freak accident. It's pretty surreal and brings things into perspective of how quickly lives can change in the blink of an eye and very unexpectedly."
Washington also described the rest of the team's demeanor as "business-like" and said that Thursday's tragedy would not be used as an excuse for poor play.
The Rangers said they never considered canceling Friday's game, the second of a four-game series in Arlington against the A's.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.