As a forward, it should be noted that I am not attempting to blame anyone in this article. Neither Shannon Stone, Josh Hamilton, or anyone affiliated with the MLB or the Texas Rangers were responsible for this incident. It was a freak accident, and an unfortunate one at that.
After the tragic death last night of Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter who was attending the Texas Rangers-Oakland Athletics game with his young, everyone in the sports community is asking the same question. Do stadium owners need to take more precautious measures to predict the safety of fans?
Stone was leaning over a railing to try to catch a dead ball that Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton tossed in the stands. Almost a year ago to this date, a similar incident took place at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, when a fan attempted to catch a foul ball. That fan survived, fortunately, but only after sustaining a dramatic fall from an upper deck bleacher.
Besides fans diving to get balls, game attendees are also threatened by foul balls. After a few incidents in which hockey fans died from errant pucks, the NHL took measures to add more netting around the rink. Is it time the MLB added an additional barrier of protection between the fans and the game?
Baseball is the Most Dangerous Sport to Attend
Despite baseball being one of the most slow moving and mild sports in the world, baseball is one of the most dangerous games to attend as a fan. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is the unpredictability of foul balls and the velocity at which they enter the stands. No sport, with the exception of hockey, uses a ball that moves as fast as a baseball with such a dense mass. The combination of this small ball at a high speed creates literally a rogue bullet, capable of killing on impact.
The second reason why baseball games are so dangerous is the cause for Stone's unfortunate fate—fans will go to great lengths to try to catch game-used balls. It is the ultimate souvenir, and can be brought out as a conversation piece and passed down for generations. Unfortunately, however, fans sometimes put themselves in predicaments to catch these balls.
What Can Be Done
There are a few things that the MLB can do to prevent accidents like Stone's from occurring. As mentioned on today's episode of ESPN's Outside the Lines, one solution is raising the railings like the one that Stone fell over. This would prevent the upper body from creating the forward momentum that carried Stone over the railing.
Another precaution that could be taken is eliminating seats that are directly above areas with big drops. This could include adding netting a few feet below the seats or placing the seats further back from the railing, thus leaving a gap in between.
The third precaution, which I think will probably be implemented, will be a ban on player's being allowed to toss dead balls into the stands. This eliminates the risk and takes the potential burden off players like Hamilton from being involved in accidents.
At the end of the day, fans must attend games at their own risk and use common sense. This is true for all situations in life. As stadium owners are concerned though, an incident like this happening once is one time too many.
If they are going to charge fans to come to games, they must make sure that fans aren't sitting in places where they can potentially be seriously injured.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Shannon Stone, his son, family, Josh Hamilton, and the Rangers organization. I hope, with all sincerity, that the world of sports never has to be dampened with a story like this again.