Fan's death on Josh Hamilton's mind
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton, wearing a black ribbon on the front of his jersey like the rest of the Texas Rangers, trotted out to left field for the top of the first inning and glanced at the seats where a fan's tragic fall took place Thursday.
The area looked a lot different Friday. A black safety tarp had been placed over the gap between the left-field railing and the left-field wall, where the incident occurred, and the club stationed ushers at the bottom of every aisle in three sections to be sure fans didn't attempt to lean over the rails.
The flags above the offices in center field waved at half-staff and the Rangers held a moment of silence for Shannon Stone, who fell over that railing in left field reaching for a ball thrown by Hamilton and dropped about 20 feet to the concrete below. His 6-year-old son, Cooper, witnessed his father's second-inning fall and then rode in the front seat of the ambulance as Shannon Stone was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead before the game ended.
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Hamilton looked up and couldn't help but think about Thursday's events. But he said after the game that he will overcome this latest challenge in a life full of them. He's relied on his Christian faith to help him return to baseball from drug and alcohol addictions that nearly derailed his life and career. Hamilton believes that continuing faith will guide him through this, too.
"Obviously, I didn't know the gentleman that had the accident, I don't know his family," Hamilton said. "It's still an emotional attachment because I was part of what happened. It's something I have to deal with. It's nothing that's going to make me go back to where I was or anything like that. I've got a lot of people that are supporting me, calling me and encouraging me. It's good in times like this to get those encouraging words from your friends and family and fans, as well."
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.
Manager Ron Washington gave the 2010 AL MVP the option of sitting out Friday's game, but Hamilton wanted to stick with his routine and play. He said that being on the field and concentrating on the task at hand took his mind off the accident "for spurts, little bits at a time."
"It's going to be in the back of my mind for a while," Hamilton said.
It was certainly on his mind Friday. He played all nine innings and went 1-for-5 with a run scored in the Rangers' 8-5 victory over Oakland, the club's fifth straight win.
"Every time a ball would go in the stands or to the second deck, you kind of hold your breath and hope that nothing like that happens again," Hamilton said. "I was noticing tonight as I was looking back where the accident happened, how many parents were sitting, holding little kids right at that rail. The caution, the safety part of things goes up. The red flags go up in your mind because you take things for granted for so long because it doesn't happen, and then all of a sudden it happens and you start thinking about things."
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.
He did have one scary moment, as a foul ball off his bat hit someone in the head a few rows behind the camera on the third-base side. The fan walked off under his own power and Rangers officials said he might need a few stitches, but was fine.
"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."
Several of Hamilton's teammates praised him for how he's handled the situation and made sure they knew he had their support.
"Poor Josh," starter C.J. Wilson said. "Someone like me, everything goes right for me so I can handle things going wrong. But obviously, it's something we all do. We all fire balls in the stands and make peoples' day. I've never heard of something like that happening. It's 100 percent unfortunate, 100 percent accidental and the intention was 100 percent in the right place. It forces everyone to think about purpose and the things that are important off the field."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.