Once more Nolan Ryan gathered the media together to discuss "a very, very sad day for the Texas Rangers organization" -- the death last night of 39-year-old Brownwood firefighter Shannon Stone, who fell 20 feet to his death at the Ballpark in Arlington attempting to reach a ball Josh Hamilton had tossed his way. The team's CEO and president answered each question dutifully, often at length; he shied away only from queries about how the incident is affecting Hamilton specifically and whether changes will be made to the stadium, where, for the second time in just 12 months, a man fell over the railing.
Ryan described where he was when Stone fell -- talking to Laura Bush, who was in attendance with husband George, his back to the field. He said he "heard the crowd" and was told by a Secret Service agent that a fan had just fallen from the bleachers. And he explained what happened to Stone's son, 6-year-old Cooper, after his father disappeared from view:Usher went up to the seats and took Cooper down. He rode to the hospital with father, sitting in the front seat of the ambulance. Members of the Brownwood Fire Department, and their priest, drove Shannon's 36-year-old wife Jenny to John Peter Smith.
"This is one of the saddest things I've ever seen at the ballpark," said Ryan, who would also describe the fall as "a freak accident."
Ryan spoke with Jenny this morning at her home in Brownwood. She told him Shannon and Cooper were both "big Rangers fans." Ryan said Jenny's "very concerned about her son and the impact it's having on him," particularly the fact that the video footage of his father's fall is widely available online. Ryan asked the media to refrain from re-airing the footage out of respect for the family.
"That's the decent thing for y'all to do," he said. "I'd appreciate that."
He said there are no plans to install netting beneath the bleachers. He was asked why the railing on the bleachers wasn't raised last year, after Corinth firefighter Tyler Morris fell 30 feet from Section 235. Ryan said that after that incident, "we did a study of our rails, and they exceed code ... We had what we felt was adequate."
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Ryan said this is the fourth such incident in the history of the stadium, but acknowledged that two within a year was "disturbing."
"As an organization, our No. 1 concern is the safety of our fans," he said, "and we make the stadium as safe as we possibly can."
He didn't want to address how Hamilton is handling Stone's death, though he said grief counselors will be available for both the players and the first responders on the scene. He praised the actions of the Arlington police, fire department and paramedics who were called to the scene. "We did everything we could possibly do."
Ryan spoke to the team last night after the game and said the mood was "very somber." Both the Rangers and the Athletics will wear black ribbons on their uniforms at tonight's game. There will also be a moment of silence observed before game, and the flag will fly at half-mast through the weekend. The Texas Rangers Foundation is also setting up a memorial account for the family, Ryan said, and has already made a "substantial donation" to the account. The public will be able to donate to it as well; more information will be available before tonight's game.