Fan’s death at ballpark still a haunting memory to Rangers

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ARLINGTON, Texas — A pair of World Series logos are painted boldly on the field, with a large Texas “T” between them behind home plate. Ceremonial bunting hangs down from the upper portions of Rangers Ballpark.

There are banners and good-luck charms all over the place - on the dugouts, scoreboard and signs held up by fans - that the Rangers are back in the World Series.

Also in view for fans in upper deck seats: Bright yellow stickers every few feet apart on the railings, warnings and glum reminders of what Nolan Ryan has called “one of the saddest things” he’s ever seen at a baseball game.

The message on those yellow stickers, in all capital black letters: “DO NOT LEAN, SIT ON, OR STAND AGAINST RAIL.”

Similar warnings had long been posted, but became much more numerous and prominent after a tragic fall this summer.

A Texas firefighter died less than an hour after tumbling headfirst over a rail out of the front-row seats in left field during a game July 7. Shannon 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.

Hamilton is the favorite player of Stone’s young son, who stood nearby and watched in horror as his father fell.

The playoffs in Texas got off to a touching start when 6-year-old Cooper Stone threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the AL division series opener Sept. 30.

His catcher was Hamilton, who shared hugs and comforting words with both the boy he had never met and his widowed mother, Jenny. They were accompanied by Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is the team’s president and CEO. It was Cooper’s first game at Rangers Ballpark since his father’s death.

“They have turned a difficult return to The Ballpark into a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Cooper,” Jenny Stone said in a statement then.

After the World Series, the Rangers will begin work to make all protective railings along front-row seats off field level the same height of 42 inches. Some rails will be raised as much as a foot.

Team officials immediately began working with ballpark contractors and architects the day after Shannon Stone’s fatal fall to look for ways to ensure safety for fans attending games, and determine what needed to be done.

Stone was the third person to fall out of a seating section at the 17-year-old stadium, but the first fatality.

A woman posing for a photo fell over a rail after the first regular-season game ever at the stadium in 1994. Some rails were raised after that, but there were no changes in 2010 after a man trying to catch a foul ball fell over a second-deck rail behind the Rangers dugout.

Some of the existing rails will be completely replaced, and others will be retrofitted. The project is scheduled to be completed before the 2012 season, which begins April 6 at home.

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